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In a thoughtful and provocative essay, Abbe Smith has provided a forceful defense of the juvenile court in response to critics who predict or advocate its demise. She tells a poignant and compelling story of urban youth deprived of their childhood and hope for the future by poverty and racism, drugs and violence, decaying neighborhoods and blighted housing, bad schools and destructive peer influences, parental neglect and abuse, and lack of opportunity. But it is these very youths who cause residents of urban areas to feel increasingly insecure for their personal safety. Compassion for disadvantaged youth does not eliminate our fear of them, and understanding of the apparent causes of juvenile lawlessness does not substitute for effective law enforcement, humane or otherwise.
The juvenile court is only a part of the system of law enforcement for juvenile offenders. It is no secret that the majority of crimes, especially crimes against property, go unsolved. And this appears to be true whether the perpetrators are adults or juveniles. Many juveniles who commit crimes (like their adult counterparts) do not get caught. This is one reason why neither the adult criminal justice system nor the juvenile justice system has proven effective in controlling anti-social behavior. It would seem to follow that changes in either system, whether by giving the adult criminal courts jurisdiction over some (or all) juveniles, or by retaining all juveniles in the juvenile court, will have no overall effect on the crime problem (except for incapacitating for longer or shorter periods the few offenders who happen to be caught, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced).
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