Treating Kids Right
The concept of amenability to treatment is, in theory, at the core of juvenile delinquency jurisprudence. From its inception as an entity separate from the adult criminal court, the juvenile court was meant to focus on the rehabilitative potential of children. On this premise, the central inquiry in a juvenile delinquency proceeding should be whether the child found delinquent is amenable to treatment. Disposition should depend upon the rehabilitative potential and needs of the juvenile, and only if no treatment is available in the juvenile system should transfer to adult court be considered. In practice, amenability to treatment may never have been the focal point that theory suggests it should have been, and it is clearly of secondary importance today. The vagueness of the concept, the inadequacy of treatment programs, and the influence of retributive and incapacitative agendas have helped push it into the background. Nonetheless, legislatures and courts still endorse treatment amenability as an important consideration in delinquency cases. Most commentators also remain attracted to the original rehabilitation-based philosophy of the juvenile court, although their positions vary substantially. Given the centrality of the amenability construct to juvenile justice theory, one would expect a significant amount of commentary in the legal literature about how the courts interpret the concept. Yet the topic has been all but ignored by legal scholars. There does exist a substantial body of social science research identifying factors that correlate with judicial decisions to transfer a juvenile to adult court. But critical analysis of amenability law, whether in the transfer setting or elsewhere in the juvenile process, is strangely lacking. This article attempts to help fill this void by surveying relevant statutory law and case law, as well as pertinent sociological data.