Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Decriminalizing Childhood

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Decriminalizing Childhood

Article excerpt

Introducation                                             1 I. The Modern Juvenile Justice System                     7   A. Over-Criminalizing Youth Behavior                    8   B. Dispensing (In)Justice                              11     1. General Juvenile Courts                           11     2. Adult Criminal Courts                             17     3. Specialty Youth Courts                            19   C. Disrupting Positive Youth Development               23 II. Decriminalization as Juvenile Justice Reform         26   A. Decriminalization Basics                            26   B. Recent Examples of Juvenile Decriminalization       27     1. School Absence                                    28     2. Underage Alcohol Possession                       31     3. Fare Evasion                                      33   C. A Stalled Effort to Broadly Decriminalize Youthful      Misconduct                                          34 III. The Refinement of Juvenile Decriminalization        36   A. Preserving Youth Accountability                     37   B. Acknowledging Unwanted Side Effects                 39   C. Expanding Eligibility                               42 Conclusion                                               43 


Juvenile arrest rates have decreased significantly over the last decade. (1) In 2014, law enforcement nationwide arrested approximately one million youth under eighteen years of age. (2) This figure represents a significant drop from the almost two million youth arrested in 2005. (3) The number of delinquency cases has also declined over this timeframe. (4) From 2005 to 2014 the number of delinquency cases processed by juvenile courts decreased by 42%. (5) In 2005 juvenile courts handled more than 1.6 million juvenile delinquency cases. (6) The number of cases dropped to about 975,000 in 2014. (7) Despite these substantial decreases over a ten-year period, the number of delinquency cases handled was still quite large.

Most delinquency cases involve non-violent offenses. Generally speaking, juvenile delinquency court cases can be grouped into four categories of offenses. Most of the cases processed involved property offenses (34%), followed by victim-based crimes (27%), public order offenses (26%), and drug offenses (13%). (8)

Once a youth is referred to juvenile court, his or her case is likely to remain in juvenile court. Petitions, or complaints, were filed in about 56% of delinquency cases referred to court, leading the cases to be formally handled by the juvenile court. (9) Slightly more than 50% of petitioned cases resulted in youth being adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court. (10) Judges imposed probation in approximately 63% of these cases, with the remainder resulting in placement in a state residential facility (26%) or another sanction such as a financial or community service obligation (11%). (11) In 2013 approximately 35,000 youth were confined in juvenile corrections facilities. (12)

Some petitioned cases will be waived to adult criminal court, though the numbers have decreased in the last ten years. The number of petitioned delinquency cases that juvenile court judges then transferred to adult criminal court for prosecution declined from 7200 in 2006 to about 4000 in 2014. (13) In 2014, over 4500 youth were in adult jails and prisons. (14) Thus, despite this decline, there is still a significant number of juvenile offenders in adult jails across the county.

The declines in numbers of juveniles arrested, tried, and detained are positive steps for many children's advocates and policymakers, not to mention youth and their families. However, the number of delinquency cases is still quite large as is the number of children being supervised by probation officials or living in state facilities for youth and adults.

Additionally, these positive gains are not evenly experienced by all youth, particularly youth living in urban areas. …

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