The Juvenile Justice System was a creation of the Progressive Era reformist. Prior to this time there was little consideration for children as needing or deserving different treatment than adults. To tell the truth there was relatively no separation of adults and children up to this point in time. In retrospect it could be said that the creation of a separate stage in the life of growing people led to the creation of a separate justice system. So the creation of adolescence and its’ separation from the rest of society also gave rise to the Juvenile Justice System. This section of the paper looks into this development.
As late as the eighteenth century children regularly participated in activities that would now be considered adult in nature (Empey, 1976). This included but was not limited to engaging in sexual activity at an early age, learning and using obscene language, drinking alcohol in taverns if not at home, working and learning trades and fighting in wars (Empey, 1976). In the United States there was little difference than the rest of western society. Colonial reformist saw deviant behavior as something to be concerned about but it was considered a critical social problem or a breakdown in the social organization (Empey, 1976). Basically they saw humans as inherently weak and drew a parallel between sin and crime and they treated either equally with the same harsh, usually public, punishments. But with the newly won freedom of the United States came a new perspective on things. With people’s freedoms being based on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which had their foundations in the Enlightenment Eras’ philosophies, there came many changes in the way people saw things (Empey, 1976).
People were no longer seen as inherently evil or preordained to a certain life path. Deviance was no longer equated with sin; it was due to a flaw in upbringing or other social problem. With these new philosophies dominating society there came a pressing need to most to change and revise the criminal codes of the past and also the reduction in punishment for a majority of “less serious” crimes. But even this did not create a separation of youths and adults in society or in the criminal justice system. That did not occur until the early nineteenth century when Progressive Era reformist were pushing for a serious of programs aimed at helping the youth of society (Empey, 1976).
Among these programs were child labor laws, mandatory schooling, kindergarten programs and increased intervention and rehabilitation for the wayward youth of society (National…, 2001). The backlash of several of these programs, whether intentional or not, was the stratification of our society by age. It is this stratification that latter allowed for the complete separation of youth from the rest of society during adolescence. It also led to the creation of Houses of Refuge and Orphan Asylums in most major cities. In fact by 1825 these institutions for juvenile offenders and other lost youth were common in most populous cities and states (Empey, 1976). It was the purpose of these institutions to act as a substitute for family and community but as is usually the case they soon became overcrowded and became nothing more than warehouses for these youths.
By the end of the nineteenth century reformers felt even more effort was needed to solve the problem and more legality was sought to back their actions. They pushed for more power to interfere in “troubled” youths lives, they saw no need to wait until the child committed an offense before giving them guidance, and these powers were granted. Now a child could be pulled from any situation in which it was felt they were being corrupted or adequate attention and structure were being provided. These new powers and the increased emphasis of the reformist for a separate system for children gave rise to the Juvenile Justice System. In 1899 the Illinois Juvenile Court Act gave birth to the first juvenile court in Chicago (National…, 2001). By 1925 a functioning juvenile court existed in every state in the U.S. except Wyoming and Maine (Schlossman, 1983).
Empey, LeMar T.; “The Social Construction of Childhood, Delinquecny and Social Reform” in _The Juvenile Justice System,_ Vol. 5, Pp. 27-51, Malcolm Klein ed., Sage Publications, 1976.
National Research Council and Institute of Medicine: _Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice_. Panel on Juvenile Crime: Prevention, Treatment, and Control. Joan McCord, Cathy Spatz Widom and Nancy A. Crowell, eds. Committee
on Law Justice and Board on Children, Youth and Families. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001
Schlossman, Steven; “Juvenile Justice: History and Philosophy” in _Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice,_ Vol. 3, Pp. 961-969, S. Kadish ed. New York: Free press, 1983