Delinquent or Criminal?
Juvenile Courts' Shrinking Jurisdiction
over Serious Young Offenders
Public frustration with crime, fear of recent increases in youth violence, homicide and offenses involving guns, and the racial characteristics of many violent young offenders fuel a popular desire to "get tough." Widespread misgivings about the ability of juvenile courts either to rehabilitate chronic and violent young offenders or simultaneously to protect public safety bolster policies to "crack down" on youth crime and provide the impetus to prosecute larger numbers of youths as adults. These initiatives either simplify the transfer of young offenders to criminal courts and expose waived youths to substantial sentences as adults or require juvenile court judges to impose determinate or mandatory minimum sentences on those youths who remain in the juvenile system. Both strategies de-emphasize rehabilitation and individualized consideration of the offender, stress personal and justice system accountability and punishment, and base transfer and sentencing decisions on the seriousness of the present offense and prior record. Sentencing young offenders as adults increases the number of chronological juveniles (i.e., below age 18) confined in prisons and poses substantial challenges for adult correctional officials. Juvenile institutional administrators confront similar difficulties as judges confine more-serious young delinquents for longer periods.
Increasingly, people and politicians view juvenile courts' traditional commitment to rehabilitation as a bias toward leniency often to the detriment of