Courts have appreciated the importance of informing the public about criminal proceedings relating to the adults. According to Neumeyer (2005), the Supreme Court in United States appreciated the presumption with regard to openness in trials of criminal nature in the case of Richmond Newspapers Inc. V. Virginia, 448 U.S. The chief justice expressed that openness in criminal cases was significant to provide an outlet for the public concern, emotions and humility which are often experienced when scary crimes are committed. On the other hand, the tradition in the juvenile courts is that the juvenile cases are not open to the public.
The policy applied in the juvenile courts protect the minors from long term stigmatization for a mistake done. The juvenile courts also justify closure of juvenile criminal trials, arguing that this type of trials are meant to rehabilitate the offenders as opposed to punishment. For instance, the Supreme Court in Vermont approved the statute which provided that juvenile proceeds should not be opened to the public. The Supreme courts argued that publication of the proceedings in relating to juvenile trails would prevent the attainment of rehabilitative goals which are the main objective in the juvenile system.
The rapid increase of the criminal offenses committed by the minors have made the justice system dealing with juvenile cases to shift their goals from rehabilitation of the juveniles, to drastic measures of deterrence and retribution. Many of the courts in United States have allowed the public to attend proceedings involving juveniles, especially when a youth has committed a violent crime. However, the privacy statutes in most cases provide that a number of not more than 21 people be allowed in juvenile proceeds where public exposure is allowed (Cavan & Shonle, 2004).
The March 1998 shooting in the school compound in Jonesboro Arkansas
Though many of the juvenile cases are not reported, the school yard shooting gained considerate media coverage. The case involved two young boys who shot their fellow classmates killing four of them and a teacher and left others wounded. According to Rubin (2006), this is the most tragic and serious incidence which left many people shocked and wondering how such young boys would commit such an offense. The incident has been recorded as the worst that ever occurred in schools in the American history. The tragedy was immediately exposed by the media which stated that the two, Andrew Golden aged 11 and his cousin aged 13 by the name Mitchell Johnson had attacked their fellow classmates in the classroom dressed in full army gear and carrying guns which they used to shoot their teacher and classmates.
Students reported that the older boy, Mitchell Johnson had already warned some of his friends that he would attack the whole class and shoot all the girls who were previously his girl friends, but had broken up with him. He also informed his friends that he had joined a group of youth gangs who would help him gain the necessary weapons to shoot. The boys indeed appeared in class on a Wednesday morning and attacked the class wounding 10 pupils, killing four and a teacher. The police caught the two attempting to escape near the school fence, they were dressed in camouflaged T-shirts, hats and pants and carried with them a rifle and a gun which had ammunitions (Neumeyer, 2005).
In response to this report, the media were called to the scene where a debate attacking the youth culture started. Angry citizens expressed that the youths were influenced by the movies and the television programs they watched. It was argued that the American culture exposed the youths to violent movies and television programs where the actors are glorified as victors instead of being condemned for the social evils they do. This, as many claimed had influenced the young boys to attempt doing what they had watched thinking that it was just a drama that would win them fame and glory.
Social Disorganization Theory
Various scholars have attempted to come up with different theories of crime in an attempt to explain the root causes of crime and how social crimes can effectively be controlled and prevented. Among the theories of crime established, the social disorganization theory of crime can be interpreted to explain the school yard shooting well in that, it touches on the root causes of crime and the measures that should be put in place to control and prevent crime in the society. According to Cavan and Shonle (2004), the attitude and thinking of a person are not in nature inmate but are instead influenced by acculturation process. Proponents of this theory argue that any action done by an individual has social importance, because it is a reflection of objective situation in which the individual operates, the attitude and behavior of the individual on the other hand is directly influenced by a lifetime cultural and social forms of experiences.
Rubin (2006) has come up with four wishes which guide this theory, he argues that, in doing any action, human beings view circumstances as real and thus bear real consequences, he further argues that the wishes made by men are a desire to have new and unique experiences, the need to get recognition, requirement of security and the wish to dominate over others in the community. When an individual possesses the four wishes that may be accompanied by the surrounding cultural practices, the result is clearly detected from the actions of the individual person.
The new attitude and behavior shown by a person results when the individual creates new interaction and relationships with the surrounding community. This theory gives good explanation of the root causes of crime being triggered by the social surrounding, such as unemployment in Chicago, industrialization, cultural and social formations of the urban life, various issues of gender, race, ethnicity and class. Lerman (2004), is a strong believer who argues that disorganization is the major factor which reinforces conflicts of culture and encourage antisocial activities. It is also argued that economic competition, mobility and ideologies that are in nature individualistic as well as industrialization and delinquency have been one of the factors influencing a person’s environment, resulting to in-constituency and conflict of behavior.
This theory further asserts that the significant kin ship ties have been interfered with by the aspects of urbanization and industrialization therefore weakening the social mechanisms which were previously used to control an individual and making the governments efforts to control citizens difficult. Social disorganization has been blamed as the main factor contributing to increased numbers of adult crimes and juvenile delinquency. In addition, social disorganization especially in the urban areas has contributed to the formation of youth gangs who are associated with commission of various crimes in the society. The youths, such as the two boys in the Jonesboro school shooting have been influenced by the fellow youths who involve themselves in crimes among various youth gangs.
Disorganization theory concludes that, the behavior of an individual is to a large extent shaped by organized, patterned and repetitive surrounding events, but not simply by events that occur randomly. With regard to the March 1998 shooting in the school compound in Jonesboro Arkansas, it can clearly be interpreted that the two boys had been influenced by the cultural surrounding and the behavior patterns they got used to over time. Though the boys had not seen people shoot practically, they were often exposed to criminal movies and programs which over time worked to influence the perception and attitudes of the boys. The theory of disorganization addressing the four wishes of a human being can be approved in this case, with the desire of the boys to get recognized, with the desire to dominate the rest, and together with the surrounding cultural aspect, they ended up portraying the consequences of the cultural influence through their actions.
Disorganization theory further provides that crime can effectively be prevented and controlled through the adopting of a culture that abides by the law, being more extensive and dominant stead of adopting alternative views of dealing with crime based on the same culture with the hope that such views will be capable of preventing systematic crime. Neumeyer (2005) claims that proper organization of the society and recognition of values stipulated by the law, would be effective to eliminate crime in the society. Faris (2003) emphasized that failure to recognize a culture that would obey the law would lead to further increased incidences of crime.
In regard to the prevention of crime, the theory of disorganization provides that the two boys would have been controlled from engaging themselves in criminal activities and should have been prevented from joining violent gangs through being taught and guided on how to adopt a law abiding culture. According to Rubin (2006), adoption of a culture that abides by the law is the most effective way of dealing with a problem that has been caused by the same cultural origins.
Factors Contributing to the commission of a Crime
From the reports provided by the media, it was reported that the shootings by the two boys were highly contributed by the youth culture. Many people in the American society argued that the youths had undertaken to copy the cultural practices portrayed by the media and the violent movies they watched every now and then. The public argued that the boys were trying to copy what they always watched from the media. The students reported that one of the boys, the older one who was 13 years had informed his friends that he had joined a gang and was not happy because his girlfriend had broken up with him. He therefore threatened that he would shoot the whole class and especially all the girls who had broken up with him. The public blamed the gangs which had influenced most of the youths to get involved in delinquency and in violent crimes (Rubin, 2006).
The public largely blamed the police and the laws protecting the storage and preservation of weapons within America. It was claimed that availing the students with such dangerous weapons was one of the major factors contributing to the increased number of violent crimes. The availability of rifles and guns was the major factor which accelerated the commission crime in this case. The police had the duty and responsibility to ensure that guns and other weapons were well preserved in the hands of the law, and that no person retained them. The government in the U.S has deployed more law enforcement officers to ensure that they effectively deal with the increased gang groups and criminal activities in the society. When such minors are caught with full police gear, the public is left wondering what work the police officers are doing (Lerman, 2004).
However, if the theories of crime were to be applied, the youth culture, the availability of guns, and gang influence would not be the only factor to blame, the whole culture in the society and surrounding environment would be blamed. The boys, just like the theory of disorganization asserts, expressed the importance of social surrounding through their actions. Disorganization theory argues that an action done by an individual is a reflection of an objective situation in which the individual operates, the attitude and behavior of the individual on the other hand is directly influenced by a lifetime cultural and social form of experiences. It can therefore be concluded that the boys were influenced by the cultural surrounding to commit the crime, plus their lack of self control.
Measures that Would Have Prevented the Crime
The community in Jonesboro Arkansas, the police, and the teachers in charge of the students would have done several things to prevent the occurrence of the crime. First, the society should have adopted law abiding cultures which should have been guiding the youths in their behavior. Such cultures should have been able to help the youths to determine and do what is socially acceptable and to avoid what is not acceptable, failure to which punishment would be the result. Bringing up the minors in a cultural abiding law environment would have influenced the minors to behave in a self disciplined manner and to avoid being engaged in criminal activities that would harm the society. The police should have ensured safe keeping and protection of dangerous weapons which should not have been carelessly exposed to the students. If the students were not in a position to access the rifle and the guns, the commission of such crime would not have been possible.
The police investigating the crime reported that the two boys were caught in the school neighboring wearing hats, camouflage shirts and pants and that they were also armed with a handgun and a riffle. During the arrest, the boys were escaping towards a van a mile from the school. the police found out that the gun in possession of the boys had ammunition. The police therefore impounded the van and arrested the boys.
During trial, the prosecuting attorney determined that the case at hand was of a serious nature and required that the proceedings be transfered to the adult court for hearing. The judge allowed a pool of reporters to attend the hearing. Neumeyer (2005) argued that opening the proceedings to the public would be important as a way of preserving integrity to the proceedings held by the the courts with regard to violent juvenile crimes. During the criminal proceeding, the court officials explained that the Arkansas law provides that the two boys cannot be put to custody for period exceeding the age of 21. The parents of the two boys were allowed to attend the court interrogations.
The court went ahead to allow the news reporters and the public to have access to the court records. Opening such proceedings to the public was justified as the only way through which the justice system trying a tragic juvenile case would win public confidence. According to Cavan and Shonle (2004), the court should in such a case be open to the public, the media, the students, and the parents plus any other interested party, in order to be seen as accountable to them and efficient in ensuring that justice is done. Despite being brought before the adult proceedings, the two boys being minors were given special safeguards in the due process.
The Sentence and Where the Juveniles Were Held
Lerman (2004) asserts that the two boys were charged with murder under the adults court, and were committed to a residential facility. The Arkansas law required that their case was to be reviewed after the lapse of every two years. Instead of probation, the boys were to be detained in one of the residential facilities among the 15 residential facilities that are secured and available in Arkansas. The detention program is supposed to involve one intake officer for the juveniles and an experienced probational officer to conduct intake screening on the minors. The statute provides that anyone has a right to require that a minor be screened before detention, as long as valid reasons are provided. The prosecutors on the other hand are the ones responsible for presenting such complaints to the court. The prosecutors and the intake officers made local arrangements and agreed on the results of screening.
The diversion decisions were made by the prosecuting attorney after he had consulted the probation officer in charge of the intake program. The boys were put under a residential facility where they would have access to education programs while in the facility and would also be attending guiding and counseling sessions while still in detention. It was also held that when released, the boys must attend the aftercare service and must obey the rules of aftercare program which are similar to parole program. Failure to abide by the rules would result to the boys being committed back to the residential facility (Neumeyer, 2005).
From the above discussion, the juvenile courts have for a long time observed the privacy rule and have argued that it is not fair to stigmatize the youths for a single mistake done. The main goal of the juvenile courts has been to rehabilitate juvenile offenders and it has been argued that public exposure would hinder the attainment if this goal. However, due to a rapid increase in the number of violent crimes committed by the youths, many courts in United States are now prosecuting more juveniles and treating them as adult offenders, the proceedings involving the juveniles are getting more exposure to the public and the courts have been giving minors heavier sentences.
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Cavan, R. & Shonle, P. (2004). “The Chicago School of Sociology. New York: Routledge Publishers.
Faris, L. (2003). Social Disorganization. 2nd edition. New York: The Ronald Press Company.
Lerman, P. (2004). Delinquency and Social Policy. New York: McGraw Publishing.
Neumeyer, M. (2005). Juvenile Delinquency in Modern Society. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.
Rubin, R. (2006). Crime and Juvenile Delinquency: A Rational Approach to Penal Problems. Michigan: Michigan University Press.