Juvenile Justice System Review


For many years throughout history, minor offenders have always beenincarcerated and tried as mature adults. Minors were jailed togetherwith adults in the same correctional centers. There was no juvenilejustice system that would cater for the needs of the childrenoffenders. However, this was until Judge Julian Mack wrote in aHarvard law review article that children offenders should be treatedand handled in such a way as a father handles a child. It becameincreasingly evident that children were learning adult criminal wayswhen they were jailed together with adults and they would only becomeperennial criminals once they were released (Siegel et al., 2015).There was therefore the thought of establishing a juvenile justicesystem which would try the children offenders. It became increasinglynecessary that there needed to be correctional facilities forchildren offenders where they would be rehabilitated.

This process of imprisoning minor offenders in a separate facilitystarted in 1824 when the House of refuge in New York was started.There were other states in the US that followed the example in NewYork such as Maryland (Siegel et al., 2015). Juveniles wereimprisoned in a separate facility from the adults and wererehabilitated there. This trend was largely influenced by research onchild development and numerous states across the United States endedup agreeing that juvenile offenders should be rehabilitated and notpunished as adults. The development of separate correctional centersacross the states for minors required that there be establishedjuvenile courts that would try the minors (Siegel et al., 2015). Thejuvenile courts needed judges with specialized training that wouldhandle the delicate child offenders. Additionally, it is useful tonote that the juvenile courts were civil in nature, while the adultcourts were criminal in nature. What this implies is that thechildren offenders were not tried as criminals, but as people who haddone civil wrongs. The first juvenile court was established in thestate of Illinois in Cook County in 1899. By 1930, all the states inthe United States had juvenile courts for trying minor offenders.

It was vital to have a court that focused largely on the welfare andrehabilitation of the children as opposed to focusing on the crime.The juvenile courts simply served this purpose: they ensured that thefocus was on rehabilitating the child, just as a parent wouldrehabilitate his or her own child. It is useful to note that thedevelopment of the juvenile courts was based on the legal doctrine ofparens patriae (Siegel et al., 2015). This is a doctrine that allowedthe courts to care for the child and make decisions regarding thechild just as the parent would have made. This doctrine is in useeven today in juvenile courts across the world. Additionally, thedoctrine is also used in schools where teachers use it to makedecisions on behalf of the parent regarding the child. The judges inthe juvenile courts must however, make decisions that are in theinterest of the child.

Even though juvenile courts were established in the 1900 in allstates of the United States, it is abundantly clear from researchthat the courts’ systems lacked the vital constitutional legalrights for the minor offenders. This necessitated the Supreme Courtto put in place various rights to minors who were involved in thecivil proceedings in 1967. The minors facing the charges in thecourts have a right to obtain legal counsel and also have the rightto be furnished with the charges. Additionally, the Supreme Courtruled that the minors in the proceeding at a juvenile court have aright to appeal their cases in a higher court and also they have theright to access the transcript of the proceedings (Siegel et al.,2015). According to the Supreme Court ruling in 1967, it was evidentthat the juvenile civil courts were denying the minors somefundamental constitutional rights. According to the ruling, denyingminors the above rights would have resulted in a potential loss ofliberty.

The juvenile justice system continued to develop when the Congresspassed the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act in 1968.This is an Act that required all states to have systems in place thatwould control the juvenile delinquency in the society in exchange forfunding from the federal government (Siegel et al., 2015). This meantthat the juvenile system continued to develop and systems wereenhanced to rehabilitate the young offenders in the community acrossthe various states in the US. In addition to this Act, Congress alsopassed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in 1974which stipulated a number of conditions that would protect thejuvenile offenders. The Act clearly stipulated that the minoroffenders must not come into contact whatsoever with the adultoffenders while in prison. It also asserted that the minor offenderswho were accused of status offences such as possession of alcoholcould not be detained (Siegel et al., 2015). It is abundantly clearthat the historical development of the juvenile justice systemfocused more on enhancing the rights of the children. It is useful tonote that this Act was also responsible for the establishment of theOffice of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention which is nowpart of the US department of justice.

This protection of the rights of the minor offenders and theirseparation from adults in prison was to be interrupted in the 1990swhen crime rates by minors went extremely high. Some states such asMaryland were forced to change the law to ensure that minor offenderswho were involved in violent crimes which involved weapons werecharged as adults and incarcerated together with adults (Siegel etal., 2015). There was a new term in town which was being tough oncrime. However, the new century has brought some changes in thejuvenile justice system where courts and other stakeholders are stillinsisting that juvenile offenders should have separate correctionalfacilities in the community for rehabilitation.

The U.S. Supreme Court decisions have had a significant influence onthe juvenile courts. The 1967 ruling by the Supreme Court in the caseIn re Gault, assertedthat the juvenile offenders had various rights that they wereentitled to (Siegel et al., 2015).This changed the way the juvenile courts acted and handled the casesof the various minors. The decision gave minors rights such the rightto legal counsel and the right to appeal. I other words, the SupremeCourt has enhanced the rights of the minor offenders. This SupremeCourt ruling also ensured that the minors who committed status crimeswere not incarcerated either in an adult facility or in juveniledetention and rehabilitation centers (Siegel et al.,2015). The Supreme Court’sruling in this case asserted that the minor offender was punished asopposed to being treated. The Supreme Court ruling also asserted thatthe juvenile justice system is not based on the legal doctrine ofparens patriae and that the doctrines historicalapplication was of dubious relevance.

The Kent v. United States (1966) case in the Supreme Courthad a huge influence on the Juvenile justice system. The 16 year oldsuspect was certified without a hearing and was sentenced to 30-90years in prison (Siegel et al., 2015). It is clear that the minor hadno lawyer and had no adult protection. It was agreed in the case thatthe minor had faced the worst decision in the case since he had nolawyer and had no protection of an adult. These is how the rights ofthe juvenile offenders started taking shape and continued till todaywhere minor offenders are being treated in separate correctionalfacilities. Another Supreme Court case that had a significantinfluence is the Roper v. Simmons (Siegel et al., 2015). Thecourt had access to expert opinion on development and brainfunctioning of the children. It concluded that the minor was handed acruel and unusual punishment. These are just but some of the SupremeCourt case rulings that have influenced the juvenile justice system.

The historical beginnings of the juvenile justice system has beenhighlighted clearly in the discussion above. The influences of theSupreme Court rulings have also been discussed widely in the paper.It is evident that the juvenile justice system has developed for overa 100 years and continues to change every other day (Siegel et al.,2015). The nature of the crimes have also had an influence on thedevelopment of the justice system for minors. One thing which isclear though is that imprisoning minors together with the adults is abig mistake. Minors are prone to manipulation and can learn criminalactivities from the adults. It is essential to have correctionalfacilities that can be used to rehabilitate the children.


Siegel, L. J., Schmalleger, F., &amp Worrall, J. L. (2015). Courtsand criminal justice in America (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ:Pearson.