Magazine article Corrections Forum

Delinquency Case Processing in the Juvenile Justice System

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Delinquency Case Processing in the Juvenile Justice System

Article excerpt

Young law violators generally enter the juvenile justice system through law enforcement... Each State's processing of law violators is unique:

Even within States, case processing often varies from community to community depending on local practice and tradition. Consequently, any description of juvenile justice processing must be general, outlining a common series of decision points.

Law enforcement diverts many juvenile offenders out of the justice system:

At arrest, a decision is made either to send the matter further into the justice system or to divert the case out of the system, often into alternative programs. Usually, law enforcement makes this decision, after talking to the victim, the juvenile, and the parents, and after reviewing the juvenile's prior contacts with the juvenile justice system. Thirty percent of all juveniles arrested in 1992 were handled within the police department and then released. Two-thirds of arrested juveniles were referred to juvenile court.

Federal regulations discourage holding juveniles in adult jails and lockups. If law enforcement must detain a juvenile in secure custody for a brief period in order to contact a parent or guardian or to arrange transportation to a juvenile detention facility, Federal regulations require that the juvenile be securely detained for no longer than 6 hours and in an area that is not within sight or sound of adult inmates.

Most juvenile court cases are referred by law enforcement:

Law enforcement referrals accounted for 85% of all delinquency cases referred to juvenile court in 1992. The remaining referrals were made by others such as parents, victims, schools, and probation officers.

The court intake function is generally the responsibility of the juvenile probation department and/or the prosecutor's office. At this point intake must decide either to dismiss the case, handle the matter informally, or request formal intervention by the juvenile court.

To make this decision, an intake officer first reviews the facts of the case to determine if there is sufficient evidence to prove the allegation. If there is not, the case is dismissed. If there is sufficient evidence, intake will then determine if formal intervention is necessary.

About half of all cases referred to juvenile court intake are handled informally. Most informally processed cases are dismissed. In the other informally processed cases, the juvenile voluntarily agrees to specific conditions for a specific time period. These conditions are often outlined in a written agreement, generally called a "consent decree." Conditions may include such items as victim restitution, school attendance, drug counseling, or a curfew. In most jurisdictions, a juvenile may be offered an informal disposition only if he or she admits to committing the act. The juvenile's compliance with the informal agreement is often monitored by a probation officer. Consequently, this process is sometimes labeled "informal probation."

If the juvenile successfully complies with the informal disposition, the case is dismissed. If, however, the juvenile fails to meet the conditions, the intake decision may be to formally prosecute the case, and the case will proceed just as it would have if the initial decision had been to refer the case for an adjudicatory hearing.

During the processing of a case, a juvenile may be held in a secure detention facility:

Juvenile courts may hold delinquents in a secure detention facility if the court believes it is in the best interest of the community or the child. After arrest a youth is often brought to the local juvenile detention facility by law enforcement. Juvenile probation officers or detention workers review the case and decide if the juvenile should be held pending a hearing by a judge.

In all States, a detention hearing must be held within a time period defined by statute, generally within 24 hours. At the detention hearing a judge reviews the case and determines if continued detention is warranted. …

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