Prevention History of Corrections—Punishment or Rehabilitation? - Juveniles
justice adult offenders court
By the late 1700s children ages seven years or younger were presumed to be incapable of criminal intent, a concept that has carried over to the present time. In the nineteenth century a movement arose based on sixteenth-century European educational reform movements that changed the concept of a child from a "miniature adult" to an individual with less fully developed cognitive capacity. This resulted in children being separated from adult offenders in many U.S. prisons and jails.
By passing the Juvenile Court Act of 1899, the state of Illinois established the first juvenile court, located in Cook County. Using the British doctrine of "parens patriae" (state as parent), this act formalized the right of the state to intervene in the lives of juveniles in a way that was different from the manner in which the state dealt with adults. The focus was placed on the welfare of the delinquent child, who was seen as in need of the justice system's benevolent intervention.
By 1925 most states had passed similar legislation. Unlike the adult criminal justice system, juvenile courts dealt with young delinquents by considering both legal and nonlegal factors, such as home environment and schooling. However, by the 1960s the juvenile court's success in rehabilitating young offenders was being called into question, largely due to the growing population of juveniles institutionalized indefinitely while being "reformed."
In 1974 Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. It required not only the segregation of juveniles from adults but also the separation of juvenile delinquents (those charged with a crime) from juvenile status offenders (truants and so-called "incorrigibles"). This led to the development and expansion of community-based programs in an effort to discourage institutionalization. A decade later the public's perception was that serious juvenile crime was on the rise again and that the system devised to protect juveniles had become too lenient. This perception led to a trend in the 1990s to exclude certain serious offenses from juvenile court jurisdiction. Juveniles charged with certain crimes could legally be tried in adult court, in some states at the sole discretion of the prosecuting agency.
According to Juvenile Justice: A Century of Change (1999 National Report Series, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention), by 1997 most states had adopted new, stricter laws for dealing with juvenile offenders in one or more of the following areas:
- Transfer provisions—making it easier to transfer juvenile offenders to the adult criminal justice system.
- Sentencing authority—giving criminal and juvenile courts expanded sentencing options.
- Confidentiality—modifying or removing traditional juvenile court confidentiality by making records and proceedings more open.
- Victims' rights—increasing the role of victims of juvenile crime in the juvenile justice system.
- Correctional programming—allowing for the development of new detention programs for certain adult offenders and for juveniles transferred to the adult justice system.
In addition, many states have added language to their juvenile codes aimed at holding juveniles accountable for criminal behavior and imposing punishment consistent with the seriousness of the crime.