Chapter 2: Jurisdictional and Program Self-Assessment
Historical Overview of the Juvenile Justice System

This manual focuses on juvenile corrections and subsequently discusses the correctional components and their operations in more detail. However, a brief overview of the entire juvenile justice system and its evolution provide perspective.

The present American system of juvenile justice draws on hundreds of years of legal traditions and continues to be honed as social values and imperatives emerge and abate. In ancient Greece and Rome, there was little distinction made between the rights and expectations of children and those of adults. Children received treatment comparable to that of adults.

English Common Law, which formed a foundation for the American justice system, also did not recognize a special category of juvenile crime. Rather, youthful offenders were treated as anyone else who committed a crime, and they were subject to harsh corporal, and even capital, punishment. Later, imprisonment replaced corporal punishment as the more prevalent way of dealing with offenders. Children and youth also sometimes were apprenticed to learn moral values and work skills.

Gradually, in the early 1800's, children began to be viewed as persons at a unique stage of human development instead of smaller versions of adults with equal cognitive and moral capacities. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States experienced increased immigration and urbanization with accompanying social changes. During this era, adolescence also became recognized as a distinctive stage of life between childhood and adulthood that provides the opportunity for physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and moral maturation. Reform movements during this period attempted to decriminalize delinquency. Youth were removed from the criminal justice system, and emphasis was placed on treating the youthful offenders rather than focusing only on the offenses they committed (Binder, Geis, and Bruce, 1997; National Center for Juvenile Justice, 1991).

There were many attempts during the 1800's to shape and mainstream poor and immigrant children. One of the most enduring movements was the development of the public school system to provide education and cultural training for all children. At the beginning of the 19th century, children who committed crimes often were imprisoned with adults. Reformers, however, decried this practice, and houses of refuge (later called reform schools) were instituted for the treatment of juvenile delinquents. Inmates lived in congregate settings, and strict order, discipline, and moral teaching were imposed.

By the middle of the 19th century, alternatives were emerging. The cottage system sought to make institutions more family like by eliminating the large congregate living situations in favor of smaller cottage-type buildings grouped together. The "placing out" system also was used with delinquent youth in the mid-1800's. Children and teens from urban slum areas were placed with families, usually in rural areas, to work, learn, and receive guidance from the family. Military schools were yet another option, although they more frequently targeted youth from middle- and upper-class families who exhibited behavior problems. Other organizations attempted to diminish institutionalization while providing a way to learn responsibility. For example, the George Junior Republic was run like a small village where the residents engaged in self-supporting enterprises and administered their own laws (Binder, Geis, and Bruce, 1997).

In contrast to these institutional approaches, probation was initiated as an alternative response to juvenile delinquency. In 1841, John Augustus, a shoemaker in Boston, Massachusetts, first began the practice of supervising offenders in the community. Not only were his efforts to reform his charges generally successful, but they also saved the State the cost of building new institutions. After Augustus' death, other volunteers carried on his probation work. In 1869, Massachusetts created a State office responsible for supervising children under the State's care. Several other States soon followed suit (Binder, Geis, and Bruce, 1997). All States now have some form of juvenile probation.

Special juvenile and family courts that removed juvenile matters from adult criminal courts were developed in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The juvenile court founded in Chicago, Illinois, in 1899 is generally recognized as the model for the juvenile court system that followed. That year, the Illinois legislature enacted the Juvenile Court Act, which was recognized by other States and countries as a model statute (Binder, Geis, and Bruce, 1997; National Center for Juvenile Justice, 1991).

Several legal precedents have developed that undergird the work of present-day juvenile courts and the juvenile justice system. These are briefly summarized in Table 2:a.

Table 2:a Legal Precedents for Juvenile Justice
Parens Patriae

This tradition claims the State has both a right and a responsibility to intervene in family life and assume the task of rearing a child if the family is unable to do so. It has roots in English Poor Laws, which empowered the State to separate poor children from their families and place them in apprenticeships.

Parental Delinquency Laws

These laws stipulated that parents could be held liable for "contributing to the delinquency of a minor."

Due Process

In the case of Kent v. United States (1966), the Supreme Court determined that a juvenile is entitled to certain minimal rights and procedures before waiver to a criminal court may be granted.

The Supreme Court decided in In re Gault (1967) that juveniles have a right to due process if an adjudicatory hearing might result in loss of liberty. The following rights and privileges were mandated: "timely notice of specific issues, notification of right to counsel and appointment of counsel if the family cannot afford an attorney, protection against self-incrimination, and sworn testimony subject to cross-examination" (Binder, Geis, and Bruce, 1997:220).

By 1969, juveniles were guaranteed virtually all the protections of the Bill of Rights.

The Supreme Court ruled in In re Winship (1970) that, to obtain a conviction, juvenile courts must require proof "beyond a reasonable doubt" instead of using the "preponderance of the evidence" standard, which is less rigorous.

Exceptions to Due Process

Contrary to the trend toward more formal proceedings for juveniles, in the case of McKeiver v. Pennsylvania (1971), the Supreme Court determined that a jury trial is not required in juvenile proceedings.

In Schall v. Martin (1984), the Supreme Court ruled that "juveniles, unlike adults, are always in some form of custody" and thus subject to parental and State control.

Sources: Binder, A., Geis, G., and Bruce, D.D., Jr., 1997; McNeece, C.A., 1994.

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Jurisdictional Technical Assistance Package for Juvenile Corrections Report - December 2000