Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Privacy or Publicity: Media Coverage and Juvenile Proceedings in the United States

Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Privacy or Publicity: Media Coverage and Juvenile Proceedings in the United States

Article excerpt


Since the mid-1990s, states have established more punitive measures in terms of dealing with young offenders, sometimes punishing them as adults even while the cases remain in juvenile court. Juvenile justice systems have increasingly introduced and perpetuated adult concepts of accountability, retribution and public safety, and placed less importance on helping youth in trouble with the law (Gibeaut, 1999). According to research conducted by Marsha Levick, a lawyer with the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, studies indicate that by 1997, juvenile proceedings were beginning to look a lot more like the adult system. Juvenile offenders were getting tougher, more adult-style punishments were imposed and the old privacy protections were eroding. In keeping with the trend of increasing punitiveness, juvenile proceedings were open to the public and sometimes to the news media in 30 states. More than 40 states allowed the public release of the juvenile's name, address and photograph. Nearly every state disclosed the juvenile court records to other public agencies, such as schools, and allowed courts to consider prior juvenile records for adult sentencing. Thirty-nine states required juveniles to register as sex offenders (Gibeaut, 1999).

In terms of disclosure and juveniles, what does our present 'punitive' trend indicate? Could it be that the privacy protections which were initially established to protect the juveniles from the publicity are under attack in the name of public interest? What are the arguments which support and oppose the use of media coverage in juvenile proceedings? This investigation will to discuss the complexities and positions associated with the media coverage of juveniles in the United States. In terms of selection criteria, the following information that was selected and examined will cover the past twenty years of legal, sociological, and criminal justice literature. In particular, this investigation will examine various explanations that support and oppose the media coverage of juvenile proceedings. In addition, we will also identify various measures which include the conditional uses of the media in relation to juvenile proceedings.

Arguments against Media Coverage

The history of the juvenile courts and confidentiality

From a historical standpoint the juvenile justice system was created to protect the best interests of juveniles (Ainsworth, 1991). The goal of the juvenile court, under this philosophy, was guidance and rehabilitation rather than determination of guilt or innocence and imposition of punishment. This philosophy was reflected in a 1923 policy statement by the children's bureau of the federal government, which declared that there should be no publicity within in a juvenile court proceeding. The hearings should be private, with no people present other than those directly concerned in the case at hand (Hughes, 1997). Since the early days of the juvenile courts, anonymity had been one of the hallmarks of the juvenile justice process. The juvenile court system's efforts to protect youthful errors form the full gaze of the public and bury them in the graveyard of the forgotten past seemed crucial to the successful rehabilitation of juvenile offenders (Bauers, 1993; San Bernardino County Department of Public Social Services v. Superior Court, 1991). Early architects of juvenile court feared that without confidentiality, the public would brand a child as a criminal and reject him for his behavior, making a healthy readjustment to society difficult (Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Company, 1979). To the contrary, as we examine the current research literature regarding confidentiality within the juvenile justice system, we see a prevailing trend which desires to diminish such an important and viable attribute within the system.

Minimal punishment and conventional opportunities

Many of the arguments in favor of confidentiality are predicated upon a theory of minimal punishment and rehabilitation. …

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