Science of law enforcement and delivering of justice in a community, marred with incidences of juvenile delinquency is a matter, subjected to public scrutiny by retributionists. The criminal justice system should be a fair and just institution, which conducts its affairs with a view to serve all equally under the supreme law.
The prosecutors are mainly at the center of the judgment and are trusted with the responsibility to deliver justice to the offenders. He or she is supposed to deliver sound judgment, based on the degree of the offence committed. A prosecutor represents the law enforcement arm of the government. A prosecutor is an elected official with special responsibility to minister justice and whose responsibility is enhanced in the context of juvenile delinquency under the principles of restorative and balanced justice. A prosecutor assures the community of its safety and protects the rights of the victims as well.
He or she also is bestowed with the wisdom to weigh the needs of a juvenile offender, not with a view towards punishment but with rehabilitation through the least restrictive measures necessary. However, juvenile offenders have been subjects of abuse by the failure in the system as a result of historical social warped perception.
The juvenile justice system refers to the agencies and systems or processes responsible for prevention and control of delinquency. It includes the police agencies, courts and correctional facilities that are involved with juvenile delinquents. The jurisdiction of the juvenile courts includes not only delinquent youth but also other offenders who are depended, neglected and abused. Over the years, there has been an emerging jurisdiction of the courts, which has seen absorption of other members of the society into the juvenile justice system. The courts also addressed and accommodated substance or drug abuse members of the community.
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The wide discretion in the criminal justice system has evidently indicated how misperception about race and crime are, without a shadow of doubt, inextricably connected. It is a self-perpetuating cycle on how the two races are being treated and perceived; the blacks and the Hispanic Americans. An egregious example, is when one talks about street crime, many assumes that you are talking about Blacks and Hispanics. On the other hand, when one talks about corporate crime, many will associate it with white male offender. The reality is that all groups commit all types of crimes, and such misperception leads to stereotypical views on crimes. The worst case scenario is that race and crime have been institutionalized in our criminal justice system and discipline.
The work of a prosecutor is also marred with ethical issues. The ethical issues are most of the time subjected to wide discretion. The discretion allows them to enjoy favor in their daily functions. It also tends to interfere with delivery of justice in a free and fair manner without favor and also encourages misguided ruling, driven by historical social prejudices such as race. Discretion has been used by prosecutors and other law enforcement agencies to dictate which crime to indict an individual. In fact, the misperception about race and crime has paved way for discretion through prosecutors who comprises the juvenile justice system.
The court’s final ruling on the type or nature of punishment should be done in a way that it is not influenced by misperception on race and crime. It should be a process that incorporates rehabilitation and not segregation. The theory of retribution is based on a school of thought that the punishment imposed should be proportional to the offence committed and as well as for the offender to be accountable for his actions. The retribution theory is also known as just deserts. Just deserts have led to development of sentencing guidelines and sentencing commissions, charged with determining the extent of punishment that ought to be imposed to a particular crime. Just desert or retribution theory focuses on the harm, involved in the crime, and the culpability of the offender.
The concept of rehabilitation is that punishment should aid in healing and reform of an offender, so that he or she might return to the society with a little or no chance of becoming a repeat offender. Crime is regarded as a social disease and can be treated and cured. To determine an appropriate punishment, the offender’s social and economic environment must be fully taken into consideration. Restorative justice system is paramount in transforming an offender, more so, juvenile offenders.
In the correctional aspect, in retrospective over the last years, the criminal justice policies, focusing on crime control, have incapacitated offenders, juvenile included for long periods of time under laws such as “three strikes and you’re out,” have caused an explosion in the size of prison population (Harrison & Beck 2003).
Many of the juvenile offenders are serving long period of time without a proper, free and fair trial or hearing. This has seen big numbers of them in locked up for long period, and for which in retrospect, might be trivial of crimes. This phenomenon is practiced with a view, exterminating the mostly Black and Hispanic juveniles. The connection between race and crime in America is historically linked to the violence and exploitation by the Whites. It is a by-product of industrialization, urbanization and socialization; the impact of historical misperception of minorities, especially those of Blacks as inferior, criminal and less intelligent. The inferior tendencies, placed on the minorities such as the Blacks and Hispanic Americans, are some of the barometers, used by prosecutors to give sentencing. This kind of unethical and protracted view on minorities has contributed significantly to the harsh sentences the juvenile offenders serves.
In addressing the unethical and biased tendencies, displayed by prosecutors on juvenile offenders, are red flags, which suggest a whole criminal justice system overhaul. The unethical malpractices are the signs and symptoms, which need to be addressed through academic excellence in the discipline of criminal justice. According to Ward and Webb (1984), the criminal justice education has been accused of being little more than a rag-tag of vocational offerings splintered together to create the semblance of academic enterprise. Central to that is the perception that criminal justice education has no identity and lacks the college-rigor. In the past, this accusation has, sometimes, been accurate. In fact, it has been found that the Criminal justice departments had expanded dramatically in the 1970s, their spectacular growth masking the internal conflicts and undercutting efforts to ensure the academic quality of the educational offerings.
Many university administrators were more interested in the largess of the federal dollars than in the real work needed to establish a university discipline. Even today, many justice studies departments find themselves locked in perpetual combat with administrator for adequate staffing, for them the criminal justice is a cash-cow that provides large numbers of students-to-faculty ratios (Ward and Webb 1984). These findings were the subject of observation by Ward and Webb in 1984.
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The criminal justice system is infiltrated professional misconduct. The due process demands that juvenile offender’s race, gender and ethnic background not to be used as a bearing for prosecutorial discretion. Nonetheless, research has found that the race of the offender influences prosecutorial discretion. However, due to lack of credible evidence to link the two, it has always placed race and prosecutorial discretion between two hard surfaces.
Proper and ethical exercise of prosecutorial discretion can improve criminal justice process by preventing the rigid implementation of criminal law. Discretion allows the prosecutor to consider alternative decision and humanize the operation of the criminal justice system. If prosecutors had little or no discretion, they would be forced to prosecute all cases, brought to their attention. However, discretion needs to be exercised reasonably and with balance. On the other hand, excess application of discretion can lead to abandonment of the law.
Prosecutors are politicians and have civic duty to serve the people in a free and fair manner with no favor whatsoever. Prosecutors always bear in mind their reputation; losing too much of cases, more so, the high-profile ones, may jeopardize their chances of re-election. Prosecutor’s primary role is to enforce criminal law, and his/her fundamental obligation, as an attorney, is to seek justice. Prosecutors are times compelled to ethical conundrums and can be motivated by the desire to achieve conviction.
Unethical prosecutorial behavior has had cases of prosecutors, concealing and misrepresenting evidence, and influencing juries by impugning the character of opposing witnesses. Prosecutorial misconduct can also be exercised, when the court instructs the jury to ignore particular evidence upon seeing that a prosecutor may attempt to sway the jury or the judge by simply mentioning the tainted evidence.
Prosecutors, motivated by desire of political gain or notoriety, might abuse office by wrongful convictions. This might be detrimental on the fact that public confidence and trust can be eroded. According to legal expert Stanley Fisher, prosecutorial abuse of office and power can be witnessed by the government, when it always seeks highest charges, interprets that the criminal law expansively wins as many convictions as possible and obtains the severest penalties. This is the legal leeway, employed by the government, to give harsh sentence to juvenile offenders.
Juvenile delinquency has been attributed to the failure by the government to address the social and economic factors, which hinders minority or excludes them from indulging and participating in the economy. The social and economic systems, created by the government, have always been done for seclusion and isolation of the minorities: the Blacks and Hispanic Americans. The creation of these systems has always been motivated by the place of the minorities in history. Over the years, the minorities have been subjected to economic disenfranchising and social alienation, thus, these factors are the needle on this political and economic structural haystack.
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According to an arrest data, suggested by sociologists (D’Alissio and Stolzenberg 2003); the arrest data, which had classified patterns into class, race and gender had findings, which reflected real differences in the extent of crimes among different groups and different treatment by the criminal justice system.
Certain groups are more likely than others to commit crime, given that the crime is distinctively linked to patterns of inequality in society. Unemployment, for example, is one of correlate of crime, as is poverty. In a direct test of the association between inequality and crime, sociologist Ramiro Martinez Jr. (2002, 1996) explored the connection between the rate of violence in Latino communities and the degree of inequalities in 111 U.S cities. His research showed a clear link between the likelihood of lethal violence and the socioeconomic conditions for Latinos in these different cities.
Sociologists use the analysis of the socioeconomic conditions to explain the commission of crime, but they also make the important point that the prosecution by the criminal justice system is significantly related to the patterns of race, gender, and class inequality. It is clearly evident in the bias of official arrests and statistics, treatment by the police, patterns of sentencing, and studies of imprisonment.
There has been a strong correlation between social factors of unemployment and poverty. Sociologists have clearly illustrated and concluded strong correlation between social class and crime, with the poor more likely others to commit crimes and to be arrested (Scarpitti et al. 1997; Hagan 1993; Britt 1994; Smith et al. 1992). These sociologists summed up that those, who are economically deprived, will often-though not always- see no alternative to crime.
The inequalities, which moreover, see many juvenile offenders behind bars, can be attributed to the fact that the government deploys most of its police force in concentrated low income and minorities neighborhoods and areas. These are, mainly, predominant residence of the minorities: the Black and Hispanic Americans. People, living in affluent areas, are removed from police scrutiny and they are able to engage in hideous and secretive crimes. Middle and upper-class individuals are perceived as less in need for imprisonment, as they are likely to have jobs. They are usually associated with white collar crimes, which are perceived as of less concern, compared to the violent crimes, committed by the minorities who are poor. This is a socioeconomic problem, which is made further worse by misperception and discrimination toward the minorities.
The social bigotry against the African Americans and the Hispanic Americans has always prevailed in the criminal justice system. Stereotypes, associated with the minorities, are impediment to the exercise of justice to the juvenile offenders. Some of the prosecutors subscribe to these stereotypes, which are mostly racial in nature, and this explains why the large numbers of the juvenile minorities on our penitentiary. The juvenile offenders are victims of runaway political and historical injustices, imposed on them.
The minorities constitutes 25 per cent of the population of the United States but are more than 33 per cent, arrested for property crimes, and almost 50 per cent of the people, arrested for violent crimes. African Americans and Hispanic are more than twice likely to be arrested for crimes than Whites. The criminal justice system, which represents the prosecutor, is deeply entrenched in a paradigm that the minorities are more likely to commit crimes and, therefore, whatever offence or crime, even of a small magnitude, should be assigned greater discretion. Sociological research has shown correlation that police and also the criminal justice system impose of discretions is strongly influenced by race and class judgments.
Nonetheless, remarkable progress has been made in the criminal justice system, courtesy of the Sixth Amendment to the U.S constitution demands a right to a counsel. This is vital on the part of minorities. The juvenile offenders, who are mostly impoverished, regarded in legal jargons as indigent defendants. The Sixth Amendment allows for the state to provide counsel to indigent defendants at virtually all the stages of the criminal process, beginning with the arrest and concluding with the defendant’s release from the system. The Sixth Amendment grants a right to a counsel, while the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments’ provides the defendant with a counsel in all types of criminal proceedings.