Juvenile Justice

Juvenile justice faces an uncertain future. Despite this fact, it continues to operate (at least in part) under the parens patriae philosophy upon which it was built. The system now incorporates elements of due process and adapts to the changing demands placed on it. There is little doubt that this metamorphosis will continue in the future.


I. Introduction

II. History of Juvenile Justice

III. The Juvenile Court

IV. The Legal Philosophy of the New System

V. Attorneys in Juvenile Court

VI. Transfer/Waiver to Adult Court

VII. The Case of Status Offenses

VIII. Proposals for Reforming Juvenile Court

A. Rehabilitating the Rehabilitative Parens Patriae Court

B. A Criminalized Juvenile Court

C. Abolishing Juvenile Court

D. Creating a New Juvenile Court

E. A Restorative Justice Juvenile Court

F. Teen Courts

G. Drug Courts

IX. Conclusion and Bibliography

I. Introduction

Juvenile justice is barely over 100 years old but has undergone a range of transformations. It began by introducing a new philosophy of parens patriae into the handling of youthful offenders and has since been transformed into a hybrid of the new philosophy and the due process approach of the adult criminal justice system. Today, juvenile justice is still seeking out its appropriate form and place in society. While it is unlikely to totally disappear anytime soon, it is unknown exactly what it will look like in the future.

II. History of Juvenile Justice

The history of juvenile justice is a relatively short one. While deviance on the part of young persons has always been a fact of life, formal, organized societal intervention and participation in the handling of juvenile transgressors has gained most of its momentum in the last 100 to 150 years. Throughout most of history, youthful members of society did not enjoy a separate status that brought with it a distinct set of expectations, behaviors, and privileges. Once an individual reached the age of 5 or 6, he or she became a full-fledged member of society and was expected to act according to the same mandates placed on all “adults.” This extended to the realm of legal sanctioning, where children were viewed as adults and were subject to the same rules and regulations as adults. There did not exist a separate system for dealing with youthful offenders. The law made no distinction based on the age of the offender. While the law allowed for and prescribed harsh punishments, there is some question regarding how frequently the more serious actions were actually used. Indeed, a process of nullification, or refusal to enforce the law against children, took place because of the lack of penalties geared specifically for juvenile offenders.

Changes in how to deal with problem youths emerged in the early 1800s as American society was undergoing major shifts. During this time, industrialization was drawing people to the cities. This movement resulted in overcrowded cities inhabited by people from diverse backgrounds with limited skills and education. Such growing diversity was especially true of cities in the United States, which were attracting immigrants from a wide range of European countries. This population growth also resulted in a great deal of poverty in the cities.

Methods for dealing with offending youths grew out of the establishment of ways to address the growing urban poverty. The primary method for dealing with the poor entailed training the children of the poor. Key to this training was removing children from the “bad influences” and substandard training of their poor parents. The institutions in the early 1800s in the United States were intended to provide skills training to the youths so they would become productive members of society and not threats to others. The failure of these early institutions to adequately address poverty and juvenile offending led to the establishment of a formal system for handling problem youths.

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