NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Rights Without Responsibility

February 27, 1996

Social attitudes and welfare programs eased the way for unmarried, immature women to bear children with no father or other male authority in the home. The result is children who join gangs that stand in for families, where they learn violence as a way of life. Evidence of the social pathologies set in motion in the 1960s can be found in journalist Edward Humes's No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court.

Reforms in the 1960s transformed the juvenile justice system:

  • It had been based on the idea of parens patriae -- decision making by wise adults in the best interests of a minor.
  • Now it gives juveniles all the protections of the adult criminal system -- legal representation, exclusionary rules and other due process requirements.
  • However, it doesn't have the adults system's serious sanctions and still promises confidentially.

The juvenile justice system is incapable of contending with the remorseless young armed robbers and killers of Los Angeles detailed in Humes's book. It fails to rescue those who can be salvaged or restrain those for whom it is too late.

Hard core repeat offenders are less than 10 percent of the nation's criminal young; yet the juvenile system focuses its attention and resources on them. Scholar John DiLulio and New York City Judge Judy Sheindlin (in her book, Don't Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It's Raining) agree that intervention can save many younger children. For them, the best antidote to the alienation and lack of empathy typical of young criminals is an adult presence that tempers affection with firmness.

Source: Rita Kramer (author, At a Tender Age: Violent Youth and Juvenile Justice), "The Young and Lawless," Wall Street Journal, February 27, 1996.


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