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  • Kanishka Nayak

IMPACT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE POLICIES ON MINORITIES

Kanishka Nayak,

Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies

JUVENILE JUSTICE ACT, 2015

An Act to consolidate and amend the law relating to children alleged and found to be in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection by catering to their basic needs through proper care, protection, development, treatment, social re-integration, by adopting a child-friendly approach in the adjudication and disposal of matters in the best interest of children and for their rehabilitation through processes provided, and institutions and bodies established, herein under and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.[i]

“The term “JUVENILE” has been defined in Section 2(35) of juvenile justice Act,2015 means a child below the age of eighteen years.”

JUVENILE JUSTICE POLICIES 

Juvenile justice policies refer to the laws, regulations, and practices that govern how young individuals who commit crimes are treated within the legal system.[ii]

India's juvenile justice policies are primarily governed by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. This law aims to provide care, protection, and rehabilitation to children in conflict with the law and those in need of care and protection. It focuses on the principle of the best interests of the child and aims to reintegrate juveniles into society. The Act establishes Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees to handle cases involving children. It also emphasizes diversion from the formal criminal justice system and promotes rehabilitation and reintegration programs.[iii]

POLICIES AND PROVISIONS RELATED TO JUVENILE JUSTICE ACT   

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, outlines several key policies and provisions related to juvenile justice in India. Some of the important policies and provisions include:

  1. Age of Juveniles: The Act defines a "juvenile" as a person who has not completed 18 years of age.[iv] This age limit is crucial in determining whether a person is treated as a juvenile or as an adult in the criminal justice system.

  2. Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs): These are established at the district level and are responsible for adjudicating cases involving children in conflict with the law. They have the authority to determine the appropriate measures for rehabilitation and reintegration of the juvenile offenders.

  3. Child Welfare Committees (CWCs): These committees are set up at the district level to deal with cases of children in need of care and protection. They determine suitable care arrangements for children who are abandoned, abused, or in difficult circumstances.[v]

  4. Rehabilitation and Reintegration: The Act places a strong emphasis on the rehabilitation and social reintegration of juvenile offenders. It promotes various measures, such as counseling, education, skill development, and vocational training, to help them become productive members of society.

  5. Diversion: The Act encourages the use of diversionary measures, such as counseling, community service, or probation, as an alternative to formal court proceedings for minor offenses committed by juveniles.

  6. Observation Homes and Special Homes: These are residential facilities established for the temporary custody and care of juveniles in conflict with the law. The Act specifies the conditions and standards for the operation of these facilities.

  7. Rights and Protection: The Act ensures that the rights of children are protected during all stages of the legal process. It emphasizes that juveniles should be treated with dignity and respect, and their best interests should be considered at all times.

  8. Confidentiality: The Act mandates the maintenance of confidentiality in cases involving children, aiming to protect their privacy and prevent stigmatization.[vi]

  9. Trial Procedure: The Act outlines a separate procedure for the trial of juvenile offenders. It aims to provide a more rehabilitative and child-friendly approach compared to the regular criminal justice system.

  10. Adoption and Foster Care: The Act provides for the regulation of adoption and foster care to ensure the well-being of children who are orphaned, abandoned, or surrendered by their parents. These policies collectively focus on protecting the rights and interests of children in conflict with the law and those in need of care and protection, while also aiming to promote their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.[vii]

IMPACT OF THESE POLICIES

Juvenile justice policies disproportionately impact minority populations, leading to higher rates of arrests, harsher sentences, and an increased likelihood of entering the criminal justice system. This can perpetuate systemic inequalities and hinder opportunities for rehabilitation. Many argue for reforms to address these disparities and promote a fairer system for all.

In India, as in many countries, there is a concern about the impact of juvenile justice policies on minorities. The juvenile justice system is intended to treat all young offenders fairly and without discrimination, but disparities still arise due to various factors. Here are a few ways in which these policies impact minorities in India:

  1. Disproportionate Representation: Minority communities may be disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system due to socio-economic factors, limited access to quality education, and systemic disadvantages. This can result in a higher number of minority youth coming into contact with the juvenile justice system.

  2. Discriminatory Practices: There is a risk that certain law enforcement practices or decision-making within the system could be influenced by bias, leading to unfair treatment of minority youth. This might manifest in more frequent arrests, harsher sentencing, or limited access to diversion programs.

  3. Access to Resources: Minority communities often face socio-economic challenges, including limited access to resources such as legal representation, education, and mental health services. This can hinder their ability to navigate the juvenile justice system effectively.

  4. Language and Cultural Barriers: Language and cultural differences can make it difficult for minority youth and their families to understand their rights and engage with the legal process. This might lead to misunderstandings and hinder their ability to make informed decisions.

  5. Stigma and Rehabilitation: Minority youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system might face social stigma, which can affect their chances of successful rehabilitation and reintegration into society. This could be due to negative perceptions associated with being involved in the criminal justice system.

  6. Overrepresentation in Certain Offenses: Certain minority communities might be overrepresented in specific types of offenses due to social and economic conditions. This can lead to biases in the perception of these communities as being more prone to delinquency.

  7. Lack of Data: Limited disaggregated data on the experiences of minority youth within the juvenile justice system can make it challenging to identify disparities and develop targeted solutions.[viii] Efforts are needed to address these concerns and ensure that the juvenile justice system in India provides equal treatment and opportunities for rehabilitation for all young offenders, regardless of their background or ethnicity. This involves not only enacting fair policies but also addressing systemic issues related to socio-economic disparities, bias, and access to resources.

DISPROPORTIONATE MINORITY CONTACT

Racial disparities in the juvenile justice system, more commonly known as disproportionate minority contact (DMC), are the overrepresentation, disparity, and disproportionate numbers of youth of color entering and moving deeper into the juvenile justice system.

By definition, DMC occurs when the percentage of minority youth at any stage of the juvenile justice system is greater than their percentage in the general population. (OJJDP, 2012). To determine whether DMC exists, disproportionality is assessed at the nine decision points in the juvenile justice system: arrest, referral, diversion, detention, petitioned/formal charges filed, delinquent findings, probation, secure correctional facility confinement, and transfer to adult court (OJJDP, n.d.a).[ix]

These juvenile justice policies can have a significant impact on minority populations, particularly Black and Hispanic youth, due to various factors such as racial profiling, socioeconomic disparities, and implicit biases.[x]

Disproportionate minority contact (DMC) is evident throughout the stages of juvenile justice system processing in the United States. More than 1.6 million U.S. youths are processed by the juvenile justice system annually, and youth of color—especially Black youth (Moore, 2007)—are more likely to have contact with this system than are their White counterparts (Dmitrieva, Monahan, Cauffman, & Steinberg, 2012). Indeed, while Black youth comprise 17% of the 10- to 17-year-old population, they make up more than double that percentage of arrests especially in communities with low Black populations, formal court proceedings, and incarcerations in the juvenile justice system (Andersen, 2015). Once arrested, Black youth typically receive more restrictive sentences and are more often formally charged than White peers regardless of offense or prior record, with referrals to juvenile court being three times more likely for Black than for White youth (Mitchell, 2005; Onifade, Barnes, Campbell, & Mandalari, 2019). Likelihood of referral to secure confinement is also highest for Black youth (Lowery, Burrow, & Kaminski, 2018). Black youth are also more likely to be transferred to criminal court to be tried as an adult (regardless of offense or age) (Bishop, 2016), confined for a longer period of time, and referred to adult prison than are White youth (Moore, 2007).[xi]

National data show that Black youths and other youths of color are more likely than white youths to be arrested, referred to court, petitioned after referral (i.e., handled formally), and placed in an out-of-home facility after being adjudicated (Hockenberry and Puzzanchera, 2020; Sickmund, Sladky, and Kang, 2021.).[xii]

In 2019, compared to white youths, Black youths were 2.4 times more likely and American Indian youths were 1.5 times more likely to be arrested. On the other hand, Asian youths were less likely than white youths to be arrested (OJJDP, 2020).

Juvenile court data provides more detailed information than arrest data, including details for Hispanic youths. In 2018, 52% of delinquency cases for white youths in juvenile court were formally handled, compared to 64% for Black youths, 58% for American Indian youths, 55% for Hispanic youths, and 54% for Asian youths. Additionally, after being adjudicated delinquent, cases involving Black and Hispanic juveniles were more likely to result in out-of-home placements (32% each) than cases involving youth of other races/ethnicities (27% for American Indian juveniles, 23% for white juveniles, and 20% for Asian juveniles) (Hockenberry and Puzzanchera, 2020:58–59).

While Black youths generally face greater involvement in the juvenile justice system at various decision points compared to youths of other races/ethnicities, there are exceptions. In cases handled formally in juvenile court, American Indian youths had the highest likelihood of being adjudicated delinquent (59%), followed by Hispanic youths (57%), white youths (52%), Asian youths (49%), and, finally, Black youths (49%) (Hockenberry and Puzzanchera, 2020).[xiii]

Youth of color are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. This study demonstrates that Black youth get arrested after committing fewer offenses than White youth, Black and Latino youth are more likely to have greater contact with the system by being formally processed, and Black youth are most likely to get rearrested after first arrest despite similar levels of reoffending.

IMPACT

  1. Racial Disparities: Research has consistently shown that minority youth, especially Black and Hispanic youth, are more likely to be arrested, detained, and prosecuted compared to their white counterparts for similar offenses. This is often due to racial profiling by law enforcement and a perception that minority youth are more likely to be engaged in criminal behavior.

  2. Harsher Sentencing: Minority youth are often subjected to harsher sentences than white youth who commit the same offenses. This is partly because of biases that associate minority youth with greater culpability and a presumption of being dangerous. Mandatory minimum sentences and "zero tolerance" policies[xiv]can exacerbate these disparities.

  3. School-to-Prison Pipeline: Minority youth are more likely to face disciplinary actions in school that lead them into the juvenile justice system. Minor infractions that could be addressed through alternative methods, such as counseling or restorative justice, are sometimes met with punitive measures that disproportionately affect minority students.

  4. Limited Access to Resources: Minority youth are more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds with limited access to quality education, healthcare, and stable housing. This lack of resources can contribute to involvement in criminal activities and reduce their chances of successful rehabilitation.

  5. Overrepresentation in Juvenile Facilities: Minority youth are overrepresented in juvenile detention and correctional facilities. Once within the system, they may face harsher treatment and fewer opportunities for rehabilitation compared to their white peers.

  6. Long-term Impact: Involvement in the juvenile justice system can have long-term consequences for minority youth, affecting their education, employment prospects, and overall life trajectory. This perpetuates a cycle of disadvantage and inequality.[xv]

HOW TO SOLVE THE ISSUE?

Efforts to address these issues involve advocating for policy reforms, including:

  1. Diversion Programs[xvi]: Creating alternatives to traditional juvenile justice processes, such as diversion programs, that focus on rehabilitation and support rather than punitive measures.

  2. Eliminating Biases: Implementing training for law enforcement, judges, and other stakeholders to raise awareness of implicit biases and promote fair treatment.

  3. Community: based Solutions: Investing in community programs that provide at-risk youth with mentorship, counseling, and educational opportunities to address underlying factors contributing to criminal behavior.

  4. Restorative Justice: Promoting restorative justice practices that involve victims, offenders, and the community in finding solutions that repair harm and prevent future offenses.

  5. Reforming Sentencing Guidelines: Advocating for reforms that ensure sentences are proportionate to the offense and allow for consideration of individual circumstances.

  6. Data Collection and Transparency: Gathering and analyzing data on racial disparities within the juvenile justice system to identify problem areas and track progress.

CONCLUSION

Addressing disparities in the juvenile justice system necessitates a holistic approach that takes into account social, economic, and cultural factors. In conclusion, the impact of juvenile justice policies on minorities is a intricate and alarming issue, resulting in an unequal representation within the system and perpetuating cycles of disadvantage. To tackle this problem, a comprehensive strategy involving policy reform, promoting fair treatment, and focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment is essential. Recognizing systemic biases and implementing fair solutions can lead to a more just and inclusive juvenile justice system that supports all young lives, regardless of their background. Finally, judges must ensure their decisions aren't influenced by implicit biases and consider whether those involved in the case were similarly affected (Soler, 2014).

REFERENCES

[i] THE JUVENILE JUSTICE (CARE AND PROTECTION OF CHILDREN) ACT 2015(India),

[ii] Shoemaker, Donald J. and Jensen, Gary. "Juvenile justice". Encyclopedia Britannica (3 Oct. 2023) https://www.britannica.com/topic/juvenile-justice Accessed 19 October 2023.

[iv] Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, Section 2(12)

[vi] Rohit Raj and Parul Chaturvedi, All about juvenile Justice Act (June 24 2019) ipleaders. All About Juvenile Justice Act - iPleaders, Accessed  19 October 2023

[vii] Child welfare Committee, Judicial justice committee Delhi High court, Welcome (jjcdhc.nic.in), Accessed 19 October 2023.

[viii] Vikaspedia Juvenile Justice Care and Protection of children Act,2015, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children)

[ix] Res Adolsec Exploring Disproportionate Minority Contact in the Juvenile Justice System Over the Year Following First Arrest (December 5 2020) National Library of medicine.Exploring Disproportionate Minority Contact in the Juvenile Justice System Over the Year Following First Arrest - PMC (nih.gov) (Accessed 19 October 2023)

[x] Arafat khan, The Law Related to Juvenile Justice System In India: A Critical Analysis, legal service India. The Law Related to Juvenile Justice System In India: A Critical Analysis (legalserviceindia.com) Accessed 19 October 2023.

[xi] Office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, Racial and Ethnic Disparity in Juvenile Justice Processing, Literature Review: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in Juvenile Justice Processing | Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (ojp.gov) Accessed 19 October 2023

[xii] WIKIPEDIA, zero tolerance - Wikipedia Accessed 19 October 2023

[xiii] NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE, JUVENILE CRIME, JUVENILE JUSTICE, PAGE No. 212, (2001).

[xiv]   Office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, Racial and Ethnic Disparity in Juvenile Justice Processing, Literature Review: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in Juvenile Justice Processing | Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (ojp.gov) Accessed 19 October 2023

[xv] YOUTH.GOV, Diversion Programs | Youth.gov, Accessed 19 October 2023.

[xvi] Welch, K., & Payne, A. A. (2010). Race and juvenile justice. Annual Review of Sociology, 36, 105-125.


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