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Juveniles in the Criminal Justice System

According to Juvenile Arrests, 2009 from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), around 1.9 million total arrests were made of those younger than 18 years of age during that year. Most of those under 18 charged with crimes will progress through the juvenile criminal justice system. As juveniles are not yet considered adults, the goal of the court is not punishment for the crime. Instead, the system is setup so that professionals who have completed criminal justice degree programs may help youths learn from their mistakes; thereby, giving these at risk youth the skills needed to make positive steps towards turning their lives around.

Types of Juvenile Court Cases

The juvenile criminal justice system is made up of detention centers, residential facilities, and correctional facilities. The system employs a large number of skilled professionals who have earned a criminal justice degree. Juveniles in the system represent three levels of cases:

  • Delinquents: Youths who have committed a criminal act such as a misdemeanor or felony make up the largest part of the juvenile justice system. After, arrests they may be found guilty of delinquency, put on probation, or find themselves placed in a juvenile residential facility.
  • Dependents: The juvenile court system intervenes for minors in abusive and neglectful situations, those who have been abandoned, and kids in home environments not thought to be safe or stable. Children in this area may be up for adoption or be placed in a foster home or group home and receive care from their local welfare department.
  • Status Offenders: Status offenses are criminal acts that only apply to youth. For instance, underage drinking, smoking tobacco, curfew violations, running away from home, or not going to school truancy would not be criminal if done by an adult. The OJJDP Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders Best Practices Database indicates that, around 393,000 youths were arrested for status offenses related to curfew violations, running away, and liquor law violations in 2007.

Juvenile Criminal Justice Careers

With so many youths processing through the juvenile justice system, there is a great need for professionals to enter the field. Career options vary but usually require a criminal justice degree. There are a lot of differences in the adult criminal justice field compared to the juvenile justice system and a need for a different skill set. Attributes typically valued by employers when hiring for criminal justice juvenile careers include, empathy, compassion, passion, kindness and patience. Moreover, the ability to interact and communicate effectively with children and a strong desire to make a positive impact on pliable young minds is highly appreciated.

One juvenile career path to consider is working as a mediator. In juvenile court, mediators meet with all parties involved in the case including the child and parents to help find a solution to the problem. Mediators may work in various types of cases including truancy, minor assaults, and issues of child custody. Child support or protective investigators are also essential in the juvenile criminal justice system; these investigators probe abuse and neglect cases to determine what happened and what interventions are necessary. These investigators routinely testify in court and work closely with attorneys, schools, and local law enforcement officials. Additional criminal justice juvenile careers include working as a lawyer, juvenile corrections officer, probation officer or court counselor.

There are a lot of opinions about the juvenile criminal justice system and many feel that the conditions in facilities which house youths need serious reformation. Having rehabilitation programs, for instance, has been cited by advocates as a means of keeping youth from falling back into the same patterns once they leave the facility. Alternatively, some want vocational training at prisons and detention centers to help juveniles learn valuable skills that lead to employment and help them successfully transition back into a stable environment. Others feel that housing youth who have committed status violations alongside perpetrators of violent criminal acts is dangerous and unacceptable.

Still another focus area is to ensure that the needs of females and minorities in the juvenile justice system is met and the economics of crime. For instance, the Prison Policy Initiative states about six percent of juvenile offenders were referred to adult courts in 1999. Criminal justice juvenile careers for individuals with a criminal justice degree may include working as youth advocates with non-profits, public interest law firms, and advocacy agencies. These programs may be dedicated to providing community resources and social outlets to stop kids from committing crimes, becoming repeat offenders, and being tried as adults.