In 1899, when the first proceeding of a juvenile court convened in Chicago, it is unlikely that those in the courtroom were aware of the momentous impact of their actions. Yet, that beginning provided the foun-dation for how our Nation deals with juvenile offenders. A century ago, the focus of the juvenile justice system was on the juvenile offenderrather than the offenseand that remains largely true today. The juvenile court system is based on the principle that youth are developmentally different from adults and more amenable to intervention. At its best, the juvenile court balances rehabilitation and treatment with appropriate sanctionsincluding incarceration, when necessary.|
The Illinois statute also gave the court jurisdiction over dependent, neglected, and delinquent children. This understanding of the link between child victimization, family disorder, and the potential for child victims to become offenders without early and effective intervention continues to be an important part of the juvenile court philosophy.
This Bulletin provides a thorough, easily understood description of the development of the juvenile justice system in the United States. It also uses the most current data available to look at where we are headed, and it examines the recent trend of transferring certain juvenile cases to adult criminal court.
Contrary to what some people believe, today's U.S. juvenile justice system is not an "easy out" that gives a meaningless slap on the wrist to violent youth. Nor is it a breeding ground for gangs, drugs, and adult crime. Instead, the juvenile justice system provides youthful offenders and their victims with a comprehensive, yet balanced approach to justice. Probation, treatment, and restitution are widely used. For most juveniles who enter the system, this approach works: 54 percent of males and 73 percent of females never return to juvenile court on a new referral.
Certainly, there are areas in the juvenile justice system that need improvement. For example, the system needs to prepare to handle more female offenders and offenders under the age of 13, two groups whose numbers are increasing. Still, the roots of the juvenile justice system remain strong and need to be supported by all those committed to improving the lives of our children. At OJJDP, we intend to continue our efforts to strengthen the juvenile justice system and achieve the goals for which the juvenile court was first established.