Processing Cases Within the Juvenile Justice System

Before continuing this discussion about reintegrating juvenile offenders into school and community settings, a brief explanation of the juvenile justice process is in order.

After a juvenile is arrested, one of the first actions to be taken when processing the case is to decide whether the juvenile should be placed in secure detention. Juvenile detention is a process designed to ensure "the temporary and safe custody of juveniles who are accused of conduct subject to the jurisdiction of the court and who require a restricted environment for their own or the community's protection while pending legal action."6 Juvenile detention serves to protect the community, protect the juvenile, and ensure that the juvenile will appear in court.

Although policies and practices vary among jurisdictions, the general procedure is as follows: Once the case has been reviewed, it can be dismissed, handled informally through a voluntary disposition (e.g., informal probation), or brought before a judge in a formal hearing. Generally, the judge can either refer the case to an adjudication hearing or conduct a waiver hearing, usually on motion of the prosecutor. Adjudication hearings in juvenile court decide whether the juvenile is responsible for an alleged delinquent act and are similar to the process of deciding whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty in criminal court. In waiver hearings, the juvenile court judge considers relinquishing jurisdiction over a matter and transferring the case to criminal court, where the juvenile will be tried as if he or she were an adult. The waiver decision is based on a variety of constitutional and statutory factors, including the severity of the offense, the age and prior record of the juvenile, and the juvenile's amenability to treatment.

After adjudication, a disposition hearing is held to determine what, if any, sanctions are to be imposed and whether the juvenile should be placed under court or correctional supervision. Court and correctional supervision may involve several measures: assignment to formal probation, placement outside the home in a residential facility, referral to a community-based program or service, or restitution or assignment to community service.

Although many of the programs and models discussed in this Bulletin have relevance for all youth who have come into contact with the juvenile justice system, the primary focus will be youth whose actions have caused them to be removed from the community and their schools, i.e., those who have been detained or incarcerated.

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From the Courthouse to the Schoolhouse: Making Successful Transitions Juvenile Justice Bulletin February 2000