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What is Juvenile Court?
The juvenile court is the pivot around which revolves the machinery for the treatment of juvenile delinquents. Juvenile courts are found in every region of the world, but in the Far East and the Middle East the movement to organize them is still in its early beginnings. Even where they exist in considerable numbers, the tendency is to have them in the bigger cities, and adequate expansion of this movement is yet to come.
The individualized justice which juvenile courts are supposed to offer cannot be obtained without adequate and appropriate services to achieve this end. Such services are required from the time that a juvenile has committed an offense to the time when he is returned to the community.
The arrest of juvenile delinquents is usually carried out by the ordinary police in most countries of the world. In this connection, however, administrative or legislative provisions are often quite specific that (1) the processing of juvenile cases should be undertaken with a minimum of delay; (2) restraints such as handcuffs should be used sparingly on juveniles except in instances where the consideration of public safety justifies such procedures; and (3) the fact of a juvenile's arrest should be reported as soon as possible to his parents or guardians and to the local probation officer. It is not possible, however, to adhere strictly to these provisions in some countries, and the need has been increasingly felt for employing police who are specially trained to deal with juvenile cases. There is a growing tendency to use special police in juvenile cases in many countries of the world. A large number of the cities in the United States have established special divisions or bureaus in their police departments, such as the Juvenile Aid Bureau of New York City. In Europe, special juvenile police are found in the cities of such countries as Austria, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, and the United Kingdom. In some cases, women police perform duties connected with juvenile cases. In Latin America there are juvenile police in Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. With regard to Asia, special juvenile police units are found in Manila, the Philippines, the State of Bombay in India, and in Japan. The functions of special police include the examination of juvenile cases with a view to reaching a decision on whether a juvenile should be released after caution or under certain prescribed conditions, or sent up for hearing and adjudication by a juvenile court.
In the matter of keeping a juvenile under detention after his arrest prior to the disposition of his case by a court, the tendency is distinctly towards providing specialized detention facilities. Such specialized places are known variously as detention homes (United States), remand homes and remand centers (United Kingdom), and reception homes or depots (Australia and New Zealand). Two purposes are served by having special facilities: (1) a juvenile is segregated from adult offenders, thus minimizing the dangers of contamination, and (2) an opportunity is provided to study the social background and psychological attributes of the juvenile. It should be noted, however, that some juveniles are still sent to adult detention facilities in most countries On the one hand, juveniles who have committed serious offenses or who, in the opinion of the arresting authorities, are unruly or dangerous are normally sent to adult facilities for reasons of public safety. On the other hand, many countries still lack special detention facilities, and even when they are available they are usually concentrated in the cities. In the United States, for example, juveniles are still sent to adult detention places for reasons other than that of public safety.
Very often, special detention homes make provisions for the observation of juveniles through social, psychological, and psychiatric services. Such observation usually occurs before the court has reached a decision on measures of treatment to be applied to a juvenile, as ideally the court should use the results of the observation for its decision. In the United Kingdom, however, there are classifying homes which conduct observation on juveniles after a court has ordered institution-alization with a view to finding the most suitable institution for this purpose.
The juvenile court itself requires an adequate and qualified staff so that effective measures for the rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents can be applied. Unfortunately, a large proportion of the juvenile court judges in many countries are still not specialists in the juvenile field, but serve concurrently as judges of adult courts. There must also be sufficient staff to conduct social investigations of juvenile cases.
Throughout the world, the procedures of juvenile courts are marked by an informal atmosphere achieved through closed hearings, the presence of police in mufti, and generally by dispensing with legalistic formalities. Where British precedents are followed, the use of the words "conviction" and "guilty" is avoided. Information detrimental to the juvenile concerned is usually not allowed to be published by the press.
Some countries, notably the Scandinavian, do not employ juvenile courts. They use instead administrative bodies known variously as child welfare boards or child welfare committees, in which laymen and specialists participate, to deal with cases of juvenile delinquency. In these countries, the prosecuting authorities decide whether a juvenile should be considered by an ordinary court or a child welfare committee. The decision is usually based on the seriousness of the offense involved. Not being courts, the child welfare committees achieve a maximum of informality in dealing with juvenile cases and have the advantage of avoiding unnecessary traumatic experiences for the juveniles who are concerned.