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Some Empirical Questions Concerning the Current Revolution in Juvenile Justice (From Future of Childhood and Juvenile Justice, P 277-311, 1979, LaMar T Empey, ed. - See NCJ - 72579)

NCJ Number
M L Erickson
Date Published
35 pages
Empirical data are analyzed in a test of the current ideologies for handling juvenile delinquents and status offenders.
Juvenile justice policy in America is currently torn between three competing ideologies: (1) the 'helping hands' ideology, which stems from the traditional belief that juveniles should rehabilitated rather than punished; (2) the 'hands off' ideology, which is derived from labeling theory and suggests that juveniles should be left alone whenever possible; and (3) the 'heavy hands' ideology, which represents a revival of classical theory and the belief that justice policies should emphasize deterrence, retribution, incapacitaton, community protection, and normative validation. The 'hands off' philosophy suggests that the juvenile court should no longer have jurisdiction over status offenses and offenders, since contact with the formal processes of juvenile court tends to reinforce or stimulate a criminal identity. These theories were tested with data obtained from self-reports of offenses and arrests by a sample of 3,209 students attending six Arizona high schools and a sample of 515 juveniles randomly selected as an evaluation sample for a status-offender project in Pima County, Arizona. Data indicate that there are few 'pure' status offenders; i.e., most respondents had committed a mix of status and delinquent offenses. This suggests that a 'hands off' policy may reduce the number of cases coming before the juvenile court without radically changing the clientele. A study of offenses committed by persons coming before a juvenile court does not suggest that court appearances correlate significantly with increased delinquent behavior. An examination of studies relating to the effect of a 'heavy handed' approach to juvenile justice does not suggest that this will accomplish deterrence. Further, incapacitation is not indicated to be significant in reducing juvenile crime, since it is most often conducted in gangs whose memebers are replaced when they are incapacitated by the criminal justice system. Tabular data and 20 references are provided.