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League Adopts Timely Study on Juvenile Justice





These are today's headlines and underline the public's heightened fears about crime. In addition, the public perception that juveniles play a major role in that crime problem is evidenced at the legislature, in the newspapers and in other surveys. This perception is augmented by police statistics, which point out that juveniles represent about one-third of total arrests and over 50% of the total number of arrest reports for felony offenses.

League delegates to the State Convention in May, anticipating the need to address this major community policy and perceiving a large gap in public information, adopted the juvenile justice study with emphasis on the law violator.

Although the public is concerned about crime and the juvenile's role in crime, their lack of knowledge is increased by the principle of confidentiality for juvenile offenders. This principle of juvenile justice is an understandable effort to help the juvenile out of the court system without permanently stigmatizing him/her. The line between the principle of privacy and protection of the juvenile and the principle of the public's right to information is hard to draw. The result has been even less public understanding of the juvenile justice system than that of the judicial branch of government in general.

Most of the organizations involved in juvenile justice provide direct services to the individual in an effort to prevent crime and disruption in society. Each has a particular point of view, and their public information understandably presents that viewpoint. There is a reform movement to reduce the juvenile justice system intervention into the lives of status offenders (i.e., runaways, truants, youngsters that cannot get along with their families). With federal monies and regulations supporting this movement, it is likely to succeed, leaving a changed juvenile justice system for the law violator. Thus, the League's emphasis on the law violator both fills a vacuum now and prepares us for timely action in the future.

The League study in action will increase the number of people who understand the juvenile justice system for law violators well enough to: (1) identify needs and recommend reform; (2) work toward solutions; (3) support its functions and purposes; and (4) know what will happen if they ever have to deal with the system directly.

The first year and a half will be devoted to observation of the Family Court, research, and booklet publication. Then the League can identify problems on which it wants to take action.

Family Court Senior Judge Betty Vitousek, of the First Circuit, has offered the League the rare opportunity to observe the Oahu Family Court. Since the Family Court is the center of the juvenile justice wheel, direct observation of the Court by carefully selected and trained observers will show interrelationships, procedures, purposes, strengths, and weaknesses encountered for all of the agencies that serve juvenile justice.

To be researched are the key components of the juvenile justice system: the police, prosecutor, public defender, Family Court, public and private social service agencies, and correctional institutions. The League will learn what kind of impact these components' legal bases, purposes, statewide structure, procedures, practices, and interrelationships have on both the juveniles involved and the community at large.

Four major areas apply to each component and these questions will be investigated:

  1. How and why are juveniles treated differently than adults?

    How can the need to protect youths from criminalizing procedures be balanced with the need to protect the public from juvenile law violators?

    Should there be greater uniformity in how juveniles are treated? Or do police, social workers, and judges need power of discretion to provide individualized treatment to juveniles?

    Should juveniles be accorded the same due process adult offenders are entitled to? Or do juveniles need more protection and privacy than due process procedures would provide?

    What does the age of majority mean to the juvenile law violator with respect to treatment, records, procedures, waiver petitions, transition measures?

  2. Do the components have clear purposes? Is there coordination between the components?

    Do the procedures, practices, philosophies, and relationships of the different components serve to accomplish the system's purposes?

    How do the responsibilities and roles of government at the county, state, and federal levels affect the quality of the system and its results?

  3. Is there observable prejudice due to race or socioeconomic background in our juvenile justice system?

  4. How do the system's components view the adequacy of the public and private social services available to the juvenile law violator?

The League committee already has good participation from each and every Local League. The committee meets a maximum of once a month; relies a lot on telephone and mail communication; accommodates the varying schedules of its members; and welcomes more researchers. On Kauai, contact Alice Larkin (245-9663) or Jenny Yukimura (245-2957). In Hilo, contact Tanya Lui-Kwan (935-4091). On Oahu, contact Chairman Dorothy Bremner (923-2622 or 261-2492).

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