An understanding of the current conflict around the responsibility and direction ofjuvenile justicebecomes more accessible considering how the system has evolved since its inception. The juvenile court system was created in the late 19th century to reform US policy regarding juvenile delinquents. Since that time, a series of reforms—aimed at both protecting the rights of juveniles and creating a dislike of prison—have made the juvenile court system more comparable to the adult system, a departure from the original intent of the United States.
Progressive Honor Reform
The Progressive Era in the United States was a time of sweeping social reform. The period, which formally stretched from 1900 to 1918, was preceded by almost a century of dissatisfaction. During the Progressive Era, Americans saw the growth of the women's suffrage movement, the campaign against child labor, the fight for the eight-hour day, and the use of journalism and cartoons to expose "big business" corruption.
Before the Progressive Era, juvenile offenders over the age of seven were incarcerated with adults. That had historically been the model. But the actions of political and social reformers and the research of psychologists in the 18th and 19th centuries led to a change in society's attitude towards juvenile delinquents. Early reformers, more interested in rehabilitating than punishing children, built the New York House of Refuge in 1824. The reform school housed juveniles who formerly would have been sent to adult prisons. Beginning in 1899, individual states took note of the problem of juvenile incarceration and began establishing similar juvenile reform homes.
Such early changes to the justice system were made in a newfound belief that society has a responsibility to recover the lives of its young offenders before they are brought to justicecriminal activityin which they participated. The juvenile court system exercised its authority within a parens patriae (state as parent or guardian) role. The state took responsibility for raising children until they showed positive changes or grew up. Juveniles were no longer tried as adult offenders. Their cases were tried in a more informal juvenile court, often without the help of lawyers. Mitigating evidence other than the legal facts relating to the offense or criminal conduct was considered by the judge. Early health food stores resembled orphanages in many ways. In fact, many of the youth placed in the reform schools were orphans and homeless children.
"Im Gault" - 1967
By the 1960s, juvenile courts had jurisdiction over almost all cases involving persons under the age of 18, and transfers to the adult penal system were made only by relinquishing the powers of juvenile courts. Juvenile courts wanted to frame their “civil trials” as opposed to “criminal trials” for adults. However, the civil process did not grant the due process of legal rights explained in the 5th and 14th Amendments to juveniles who actually faced a possible loss of liberty. The right to a jury trial and freedom from self-incrimination were guaranteed to citizens in Article 5 of the Bill of Rights (ratified in 1791). This article, the 5th Amendment, states: "No one shall be tried for a capital crime or any other heinous crime except upon the presentation or indictment of a grand jury... criminal proceeding to be a witness against himself." The 14th The amendment required that all citizens of the United States enjoy equal legal protections The amendment states: "No state shall make or enforce any law restricting the privileges or immunities of any citizen of the United States, nor shall any state of any person do so." Life, liberty or property without due process of law deprives or denies every person within its jurisdiction the equal protections of law." The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868.
A 1967 Supreme Court decision reinforced the need to require juvenile courts to respect the legal rights of juveniles during their trials. The verdict was the result of an evaluation of Arizona's decision to incarcerate Gerald Francis Gault. Gault, 15, was remanded in custody for making an obscene phone call to a neighbor while on probation. The Arizona juvenile court had ruled to place him at the State Industrial School until he was of age (21) or "released by due process". The Supreme Court decision, issued by Judge Abe Fortas, emphasized that juveniles have the right to fair treatment under the law and noted the following rights of minors:
- The right to a fee notice
- The right to legal assistance
- 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 "opposition review"
Dissenting voice, Judge Potter Stewart, expressed concern that the court's decision would "convert a juvenile trial into a criminal prosecution." He maintained the historic intent of the juvenile court system, which was not to prosecute and punish juvenile offenders, but to "correct a condition" and honor society's "responsibility to the child."
Prevention and Control of Juvenile Delinquency Act – 1968
In 1968, Congress passed the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act. The law was intended to encourage states to develop plans and programs that would work at the community level to prevent juvenile delinquency. The programs would receive federal funding once they were developed and approved. The Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act was a precursor to the comprehensive Juvenile Courts and Prevention Act it replaced in 1974.
The Juvenile Courts and Delinquency Prevention Act – 1974
By 1974, the United States had developed strong momentum to prevent juvenile delinquency, deinstitutionalize juveniles already in the system, and separate juvenile offenders from adult offenders. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act 1974 created the following bodies:
- The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)
- The Runaway Youth Program and
- The National Institute for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NIJJDP)
To receive the funds provided by the law, states had to remove juveniles from "safe detention and correctional facilities" and separate juvenile offenders from convicted adults. Part of the rationale for separating juvenile and adult offenders was evidence that juvenile delinquents learned more serious criminal behavior from older inmates. Such logic was put forward in the Progressive Era by the writer Morrison Swift, who commented on the practice of incarcerating young offenders with adults: "Young and impressionable offenders were taken to Rutland with more hardened men to receive training in lawlessness from their experienced ones Staff." ("Humanizing the Prisons," August 1911, The Atlantic).
Hardship Against Crime Act.
A steep climb injuvenile delinquencytook place between the late 1980s and mid 1990s. The increase in crime peaked in 1994 and then gradually began to decline. In response to fears that juvenile delinquency would continue to rise as it did between (roughly) 1987 and 1994, lawmakers enacted measures aimed at "tackling crime". The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act 1974 was amended to include provisions that would allow states to try juveniles as adults for someviolent crimeand gun injuries. Minimum standards for detention have also been introduced in some states. The anti-crime sentiment of the time led to changes being made to the juvenile justice system that made it more and more similar to the adult (criminal) justice system. The shift that Judge Stewart predicted in 1967 with the introduction of formal trials for juveniles reflected an increasingly popular view that juvenile offenders are not juvenile rehabilitation but young delinquents. In the aggressive campaign against crime in the 1990s, rehabilitation became a lesser public safety priority.
In the late 1990s, Americans faced growing concerns about high profile and violent juvenile delinquency. A series of school shootings and other horrific crimes have led the public to fear a new breed of "juvenile superpredators," defined by the OJJDP as "youth for whom violence was a way of life—new offenders as opposed to youth of previous generations." The OJJDP's February 2000 Juvenile Justice Bulletin acknowledged that the threat of juvenile violence and crime was grossly exaggerated in the 1990s; However, the fear experienced at the time led to significant changes in the United States' approach to juvenile delinquency.
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