Netflix’s courtroom drama Juvenile Justice, directed by Hong Jong-chan, highlights the issues of young offenders and the social problems that surround juvenile delinquency in South Korea. It stresses the fundamental problems of society. Specifically how young offenders are not the only ones that are responsible for their decisions. A heart-wrenching and thought-provoking drama that dives deep into murder. Juvenille Justice discusses young teenagers being forced into prostitution, domestic violence against juveniles, child abuse and embezzlement, and gang rape.
The drama revolves around Sim Eun-seok (Kim Hye-soo), a newly appointed judge to the district with the highest juvenile delinquency. She’s a judge who detests young offenders and works to discipline them with the most unorthodox decisions during the judgements. She works with Judge Cha Tae-joo (Kim Moo-yul) and Senior Judge Kang Won-joong (Lee Sung-min). Eun-seok doesn’t plan to make any friends at her workplace. Behind Eun-seok’s cold persona, there’s a box filled with secrets from her past that she can’t get rid of yet. As she works through teaching and sentencing young offenders, she must face her past that keeps haunting her.
In South Korea, the age of criminal responsibility is 14 years old. Statistic show that there is a growing number of teenagers who are not afraid of committing crimes. Korean teenagers know that they have a second chance to rehabilitate themselves. Juvenile Law is meant to protect children and teach them what they did wrong, rather than punish them. According to this review, children under the age of 10 and 14 are exempt from criminal punishment and charges. When a child is 14 years old, but still under the age of 19, they are no longer “criminal minors”.
Children between the ages of 14 and 20 are specially treated under South Korean Law. There are a lot of people who wish to reform the criminal age of responsibility and reduce it to 13. There are calls for tougher punishment and resolving the issue with sympathy. The true frustration lies within the government’s inability to progress these issues with respect. Throughout the years, the South Korean government has plans to develop crime prevention education programs and open juvenile detention centres. The aim is to help young offenders reform back into society with the goal of preventing repeat offenses.
What Juvenile Justice does with these social issues and problems is, brings it to the forefront of the discussion from different perspectives. It doesn’t show one side of the problem, rather finds a balanced answer to the issues presented in the show. The first episode deals with the murder of a 9-year-old and the mutilation of the boy’s body at the hands of his neighbour, Baek Seong-u. Eun-seok seeks to solve the murder by herself and as she investigates. She believes that the neighbour, a 13-year-old boy, didn’t murder him and it was somebody else. She discovers through CCTC footage in the elevator is not the murderer but Han Ye-eun, a 16-year-old student.
The first episode reveals how young offenders like Ye-eun are not afraid of the law. In this case, Ye-eun convinces Seong-u to turn himself in as the law would not punish him because of his age. She was aware of the consequences that she would face if she had confessed to the murder and subsequent mutilation of the young boy. On the other hand, Seong-u, who is under the age of 14 avoids criminal charges. When Eun-seok confronts Ye-eun about the murder and her knowledge of the Act, she shows the footage that places her moments before the crime. Young offenders are aware of the level of punishment they will face due to the information on the internet.
Another episode that discusses an important topic amongst young offenders is domestic violence against children. When Seo Yu-ri stumbles onto Eun-seok’s office late at night with bruises all over her body, Eun-seok takes the lead and investigates the case. A mysterious man barges into Yu-ri’s workplace, who later turns out to be her father. Yu-ri doesn’t have anybody taking care of her because her grandparents are sick. During the trial, she finds out that for years, her father physically abuses his mother and daughter. Yu-ri’s grandmother reveals that her son grew up in an abusive household where his parents used to physically abuse him to discipline him.
Eun-seok implores the family that victims of domestic abuse should break the cycle instead of continuing it. She sentences him to 200 hours of community service. Juvenile Justice makes an important lesson that sometimes it can be parents who mistreat and don’t take care of their children. It implores the importance of parents looking after their children and taking the responsibility of learning to be a guardian, which is something that the courts sentence to the parents during trials. What Eun-seok says to the court at the end of the trial is that being someone’s son or father doesn’t stop people from committing a crime or getting sentenced.
Juvenile Justice brings the issues of young offenders to the surface with different perspectives. The reason that Eun-seok gives these criminal minors ruthless punishments is for them to understand the consequence of the actions they committed. It’s a powerful series that discusses heavy issues involving juvenile delinquency. The drama takes the time to explain each case thoroughly and presents both sides of the argument, and how it can be resolved at the end. It shows how harmful crimes can take a mental and physical toll on the young offenders, their families and the victims’ family.
It’s an important show that takes the time to explain the issues and the meaningful issues portrayed in the drama. Juvenile Justice brings the cases to the forefront. In the later episodes it tells the story of a gang that rapes and records young girls, then sells the video recordings online. It also looks at how rape cases can cause the victims to be ostracized from society to the point where they are harassed online and dropped out of school. For rape victims their trauma never ends.
If the audience is unaware of the issues that are discussed in Juvenile Justice, this would be a great show to recommend. The weight of the social issues and problems of juvenile delinquency is high. It’s a provocative show that intends to provide a full and impartial view of the issues. The drama explains the root cause of juvenile delinquency are domestic and social issues. But young offenders or parents are not only the problem in this puzzle, it’s the fundamental problems of society.
Nuha Hassan is a film and TV writer and reviewer, based in the Maldives. She is a Staff Writer at Film Cred, Off Colour, and Flip Screen. Apart from writing about film, she is a Video Editor at Dead Central. She studied Master of Media at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Her love for film started with David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel. Her favourite comfort film is When Harry Met Sally.