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Juvenile Justice Research Paper Essay


The juvenile Justice System has gone through many changes in America and are represented through six main periods that will be discussed in this paper. The periods are called the Puritan Era (1646–1824), the Refuge Period (1824-1899), the Juvenile Court Period (1899-1960), The Juvenile Rights Period (1960-1980), the Crime Control Period (1980-2005), and The Kids are Different Period (2005-present). Juvenile Justice has constantly changed depending on the beliefs, needs and wants of society during a certain era. There are reformers who have fought and continue to do so for the best interest of juveniles and society. They have played a major role and succeeded in many changes through the Juvenile Justice history.

Youth crime has always been present in the United States dating back to the colonial period when American cities were first established in our country. The way youth crime has been handled has drastically changed over the years. Some people may feel the changes are for the better, and some may not agree with the changes. However, by taking a look at the history of the juvenile system clearly many reformers have fought for changes and laws to protect and rehabilitate juvenile offenders.

Literature Review

There are six main periods in the development of the United States Juvenile Justice system. The first development has early ties dating back to the 19th century. The earliest attempt to control juvenile behavior was during The Puritan Period from 1646 until 1824. The Massachusetts Stubborn Child Law was passed in 1646. The puritans during this time viewed children as evil and placed responsibility on the family to discipline and raise youths. If the parents were unsuccessful; the youth would, then be subject to the law. (Cole, Smith, DeJong page 472). During this time, children over the age of five were treated either as small adults or property. A seven-year-old child could be sentenced in criminal courts. In 1648 in Massachusetts a child who cursed his natural parents could be put to death (U.S. History). The second period is The Refuge Period from 1824 until 1899. Youth crime began to grow right alongside American cities. As a result, reformers began to develop correctional practices.

The main focus was on urban immigrant poor, seeking to have parents declared unfit if their children roamed the streets and were out of control. Of course, not all poor immigrant children were involved in criminal acts but if the parents were viewed as not disciplining or training them to follow society’s rules, the children would end up in prison. Institutions were opened, which were half prison and half school house, and they were occupied by orphans and children convicted of crimes. Many children were placed in these homes because of neglect or being homeless and stayed until they were adults. The houses were run by a strict program of work, study and discipline. Reform schools were also opened to provide discipline and education in a home like atmosphere. Even with the reform schools children could still be arrested. The process for arrests, trial, and imprisonments were the same for children and adults during this period. (Cole, Smith, DeJong page 472).

The third period is The Juvenile Court Period from 1899 until 1960. Juvenile criminality became a focus and reformers pushed for individualized care and treatment to offenders of all kinds to include adult criminals, the mentally ill, and juvenile delinquents. They pushed for the use of probation, treatment, indeterminate sentences, and parole for adults and succeeded in similar programs for juveniles. The upper-middle class reformers were called child savers, and they fought to use the power of state to save children from a life of crime. They fought for a separate juvenile court system that could address problems by using flexible procedures. An act was passed in 1899 for children under 16, which had four main parts, they are a separate court. for juveniles, fewer adversarial procedures than the adult system, separation of children from adults in the system, and programs to assist the courts in deciding what is in the best interest of the child and the state.

The philosophy came from the idea that the state would deal with a child much like a good parent would and procedures would be informal and private. Social workers and psychologists were used in the system instead of lawyers because social workers and psychologists could determine the underlying behavior problem. (Cole, Smith, DeJong page 472 – 473). According to (lawyershop) in the article The History of America’s Juvenile Justice System the Progressive Era in the United States was from 1900 until 1918 and was a time of social reform. It follows a period of discontent where American’s experienced struggles such as the women’s suffrage movement, and the fight against child labor. In 1899, the State of Illinois established the first juvenile court and within 30 years, all the states had established juvenile courts. The main difference between juvenile and adult court was that juvenile courts were civil in nature and adult courts were criminal. (Maryland.gov).

Next came the Juvenile Rights Period from 1960 until 1980. In the early 1960s lawyers and scholars began to criticize the extent of discretion given to juvenile justice officials, and the U.S. Supreme court expanded the rights of juveniles. A judge can now waive jurisdiction and pass a case to adult court. Children in a delinquency hearing were given certain procedural rights such as notice of the charges, right to counsel, right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, and protection against self- incrimination. Also, another change is the onset of status offenses, which are acts that are not illegal if committed by an adult such as skipping school or running away. (Cole, Smith, DeJong pages 473 – 475). According to (Maryland.gov):

Until the late 1960s, youth in the juvenile court system did not have constitutional legal rights. That changed with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in In re Gault. In that case, the Supreme Court concluded that even though juvenile courts were civil proceedings, juveniles subject to these proceedings still faced a potential loss of liberty. For that reason, the Supreme Court required that all youth offenders involved in juvenile court proceedings and facing possible confinement have the following constitutional rights:

The right to receive notice of charges
The right to obtain legal counsel
The right to confrontation and cross-examination
The privilege against self-incrimination
The right to receive a transcript of the proceedings, and

The right to have an appellate court’s review the lower court’s decision. As a result of Juvenile crime, rising in the 1970’s the Crime Control Period of 1980-2005 came to surface. The public demand to crack down on crime began in 1980. The juvenile system changed in regard to greater attention being placed on repeat offenders with policy makers calling for harsher punishment on juveniles who commit crimes and juveniles could now be held in preventative detention prior to trial if considered a risk to society. Crime control policies resulted in a lot more juveniles being tried in adult courts and seemed to go beyond the juveniles who were accused of violent crimes. (Cole, Smith, DeJong page 475). Some laws were passed that required law enforcement and the courts to automatically charge youth as adults if they were alleged to have committed violent crimes with weapons. (Maryland.gov) We are currently in the Kids Are Different Period, which began in 2005 and is still going on.

This is a new era in juvenile justice brought on by the new ruling that executions are unconstitutional for crimes committed by anyone younger than 18 years. The ruling was made because juveniles are less deserving of blame than adults due to factors such as physical and emotional development that comes from emotional development that comes from growth and maturity of the brain. Maturity occurs at age 16, but controls over impulsiveness are not fully developed until age 24 or 26.

Because of this recognition, new programs and laws are designed to treat juveniles differently than adults. Emotional and intellectual development plays a role in how children understand or fail to understand their rights. The process for judicial waiver to move juveniles to adult court is not used as much during this period. Lawyers are now normally present at stages in the process to include court hearings. Offenders rarely up in punitive environments such as training schools and the juvenile justice system is similar to the adult system but not as formal with the intention to keep juveniles in the community when possible. According to (U.S. History):

In 2012, the Supreme Court continued its trend of holding that children cannot be automatically punished the same way as adult criminals without considering their age and other factors, by further ruling that juveniles under the age of 18 who commit murder may not receive mandatory life sentences with any chance for parole. Each case must be decided on its own merits, and the sentence imposed must take into account the child’s age and other factors.

The ruling allows judges and juries to consider a juvenile’s age when they hand down sentences for some of the harshest crimes, instead of making life in prison without parole an automatic sentence. The ruling left open from the possibility that judges can sentence juveniles to life without parole in individual cases of murder, but said state and federal laws cannot automatically impose such a sentence. The court recognized that children need additional attention and protection in the consideration of the unique status of children and their potential for change.


The Juvenile Justice System has gone through many changed since youth crime first started in America. It continues to change as reformers fight for juvenile rights and fight to keep rehabilitation programs. At the end of the day, the Juvenile System is here to protect the offender as well as the society as a whole. Juveniles are young enough to change and the rehabilitation programs are worth it, especially when some juveniles change and become a productive member of society.

DeJong, C., Cole, G. F., & Smith, C. E. (2013). Chapter 15. In Criminal Justice in America. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. History of America’s Juvenile Justice System. (n.d.). LawyerShop Site. Retrieved December 06, 2014, from http://www.lawyershop.com/practice-areas/criminal-law/juvenile-law/history History of Juvenile Justice in the United States. (n.d.). Maryland.gov Department of Juvenile Systems Retrieved December 05, 2014, from http://www.djs.state.md.us/history-us.asp U.S. History. (n.d.). State of Louisiana/Youth Services/Office of Juvenile Justice. Retrieved December 06, 2014: http://www.ojj.la.gov/index.php?page=sub&id=230

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