Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



In early 1994, an American teenager was caned by Singapore authorities after his conviction for various acts of vandalism. This highly publicized punishment sparked sharp controversies in the United States. Amnesty International, along with many columnists, condemned Michael Fay's sentence as too harsh, given his youth and the non-violent nature of the crime.' The American public, by contrast, strongly supported the punishment. Apparently, many Americans felt that if tougher sanctions were imposed on youths who committed criminal acts in this country, our delinquency levels would more closely resemble Singapore's almost negligible offense rates. Given the widely held perception that America's juvenile crime rates are increasing, the controversy over Singapore's punishment of Michael Fay highlights a dilemma of growing importance in United States society. What is the proper balance between rehabilitation and punishment, the dual goals of the juvenile justice system?

In recent years, many states have enacted laws specifically addressing the problem of serious and habitual juvenile crime. Several prominent commentators have interpreted this trend as an indication that society has rejected the juvenile court's traditional philosophy of rehabilitation in favor of more punitive, offense-oriented sanctions, and some have concluded that recent changes call into question the very viability of the juvenile court system.

This Note challenges such an interpretation. By focusing on statutes which authorize and create integrated programs for serious and habitual juvenile offenders (as opposed to the "get tough" statutes that have so intrigued most researchers), this Note demonstrates that current scholarship has been premature in pronouncing the demise of rehabilitation as a goal and method of the juvenile justice system. Part II will briefly outline the philosophies of rehabilitation and punishment and discuss their importance in the current juvenile justice system. Parts III.A and III.B will discuss two different types of serious and habitual juvenile offender statutes-the punitive, "get tough" approach and the integrated, intensive supervision program. Part III.C will compare the two approaches in order to show that, far from signaling a wholesale rejection of the rehabilitative philosophy, recent legislative reforms evince a continued commitment to both punishment and rehabilitation. Finally, by examining the goals and effectiveness of such statutes, Part IV of this Note will demonstrate that punishment and rehabilitation are compatible goals, both in theory and in practice. Each deserves its place in the juvenile justice system, and integrated serious and habitual juvenile offender statutes are one means of achieving an appropriate balance.

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