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Is Juvenile Justice Just too Slow?

NCJ Number
Judicature Volume: 83 Issue: 1 Dated: July-August 1999 Pages: 16-24
Jeffrey A. Butts; Joseph B. Sanborn Jr.
Date Published
9 pages
Many juvenile courts are currently unable to provide timely adjudication, and they are unlikely to be able to do so without significant new incentives; it is time for policymakers to make timely adjudication for juveniles a reality.
Clearly, there are reasons to be concerned about the speed of the juvenile court's processing of delinquent offenders. Delays in juvenile justice may be uniquely harmful. Adolescents are socially, emotionally, and cognitively different from adults. Particularly during stressful circumstances, adolescents exhibit a sense of "futurelessness" in evaluating the possible risks associated with personal behavior and choices. Negative consequences that "might" be enforced some time in the future do not exert much influence over a juvenile's behavior. The consensus of professional opinion is that for delinquency cases not involving youth held in pretrial detention, adjudication should occur within 30 to 65 days. For detained youths, the standards suggest adjudication within 15 to 30 days. Until the U.S. Supreme Court addresses the concept of a juvenile's right to a speedy trial, youths involved in delinquency proceedings will not enjoy the same Federal constitutional rights afforded adult criminal defendants; however, a few State courts have interpreted the Supreme Court's Fourteenth Amendment analysis In re Gault (1967) and In re Winship (1970) as indicating at least the possibility that other rights, including speedy trial, may apply to juveniles. Trial and appellate courts in some States have extensive records of case law that come close to providing a form of speedy trial to juvenile offenders; however, some State courts have either explicitly denied a speedy trial right to juveniles or severely limited its application. Even in jurisdictions that have attempted to guard against excessive juvenile court delays by enacting statutory deadlines for adjudication, appellate courts have often been unwilling to enforce these deadlines. A table shows speedy-trial provisions for juveniles in 27 jurisdictions. 2 tables and 14 footnotes