Chapter 21, Section 4

Juvenile Justice

Abstract: This chapter provides the participant with a generalized perspective of the juvenile justice system as it pertains to the administration of justice and issues of importance to victims of crime. Included within the presentation and discussion is information concerning the differences between the juvenile justice and adult criminal justice systems. This chapter also addresses a variety of issues ranging from the impact of domestic violence, sexual and physical abuse upon children and how such crimes are perpetuated through the cycle of violence, to the effectiveness of prevention and offender conciliation programs involving juvenile offenders and their victims.

Learning Objectives: Upon completion of this chapter, students will understand the following concepts:

1. The original intent of the juvenile justice system.

2. The characteristics unique to the juvenile justice system, as well as to victims of juvenile offenders.

3. The nature of confidentiality as applied in the juvenile justice system.

4. The range of sanctions available for juvenile offenders.

  1. The impact of the victims' rights movement on the juvenile justice system.

Statistical Overview

(The preceding statistics are derived from "Juvenile Offender and Victims: A Focus on Violence," May 1995, by Howard N. Snyder and Melissa Sickmund, National Center for Juvenile Justice, Pittsburgh, PA and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Washington, DC.)


One of the greatest threats to individual and community safety in the United States is the astounding increase in juvenile crime and, in particular, violent crimes committed by our nation's youth. They murder, rape, rob, assault, steal, and commit arson at unprecedented rates. They intimidate their family, their friends, and their communities. They flood a juvenile justice system that is ill-equipped to deal with the steady onslaught of arrests. And "they" are just children, long termed "the future of America" whose futures too often hold promise of despair, dysfunction and even death by violent means.

Since the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime published its Final Report in 1992, the number of children committing crimes -- as well as being victimized by crime -- have considerably increased. In 1991, victims attributed about one in four personal crimes (28 percent) to juvenile offenders under age 18 (Bureau of Justice Statistics [BJS], 1992). That same year, juveniles were responsible for about one in five violent crimes (19 percent) (BJS, 1992).

The high level of violent crime committed by youth in 1992 is even more shocking when one considers the increase in violent crime over the past decade. Figure 1 depicts the levels of violent crimes committed by juveniles in 1992, as well as the percentage increase in arrests of juveniles for these crimes since 1983 (Snyder and Sickmund, 1995, p. 3, p. 10):

Type of % Committed by % Increase in Arrests

Violent Crime Juveniles in 1992 since 1983

Murder 9% 128%

Aggravated assault 12% 95%

Forcible rape 14% 25%

Historical Perspective

Compounding the many other startling issues that any crime victim is confronted with, is the realization that the administration of juvenile justice differs greatly from that of the adult criminal justice system. Historically, the juvenile justice system has evolved over the years based upon the underlying premise that juveniles are and must be treated differently from adults.

In the early 20th century, when formal distinctions were made between the adult and juvenile justice systems, it was believed that many youthful offenders were errant children who were in need of simple guidance and advice in order to resurrect them from a life of debauchery and crime. During the early years following the turn of the century, juvenile crime was often characterized by acts of truancy, petty thievery or burglary.

In this separately designed justice process, every effort was made to divert the child from the criminal justice system. Churches, community groups and social workers were enlisted to provide guidance and assistance the errant offender in modifying his or her behavior. Youthful offenders were often required to serve periods of time under the supervision of a truant or probation officer. Every effort was made to provide necessary assistance through non-institutional treatment. When institutionalization was necessary, youthful offenders were housed within schools of industry where attempts were made to provide them with vocational training

Within this historical context, it is important for every victim advocate to understand that there are some characteristics about the administration of the juvenile justice system that are clearly distinct from the adult justice system. It is also important to note that those characteristics are undergoing close scrutiny regarding their effectiveness in modern day society. Understanding these distinctions are crucial to providing support and much needed information to victims and their families.

Characteristics Unique to Juvenile Justice

There are a variety of significant differences between America's juvenile justice and adult justice systems. While these differences are enumerated throughout this chapter, it is helpful to know and understand differences in terminology, as depicted in the following chart:

ProsecutorsCourt advocates
Being "found guilty"A "finding"
Getting locked upA placement

In addition, victims of juvenile offenders share many unique characteristics, due in large part to the lack of rights and services afforded to them by juvenile justice systems throughout the United States. While 30,000 statutes have been passed that designate and enforce crime victims' rights in America, only a handful of these apply to victims of juvenile offenders. Such omissions create tremendous hardships for individuals who are victimized by adolescents and children.

Characteristics unique to victims of juvenile offender include, but are not limited to:


Most states have included provisions within their juvenile justice statutes that mandate ensuring the confidentiality of the juvenile offender. These laws were enacted to avoid stigmatizing the youthful offender with every expectation that such information would only serve to impede any rehabilitative efforts. Consequently, information regarding the name and age of the offender is often unavailable to the victim from law enforcement and juvenile court records. Similarly, juvenile court proceedings are confidential and generally exclude all persons from the actual hearing, other than court personnel. In many states, the records of the juvenile court proceedings are sealed after the offender has reached adulthood and the dispositions of juvenile cases cannot be considered in any future criminal proceedings as an adult.

Victims' Rights in Juvenile Cases

As noted above, the profile and nature of juvenile criminal activity have changed drastically during the past two decades. The violent and increasingly serious nature of the crimes committed by young criminals no longer resembles the crimes committed by juveniles when these statutes were enacted. In light of the emerging seriousness of crimes now committed by juveniles, and because of the advancement of victims' rights, several states are changing existing statutes to allow victim access to information about the offender's status. It is important that advocates have knowledge of these confidentiality constraints, and that they be able to explain them sufficiently to victims and their families.

Juvenile Justice Procedures

In most states, the juvenile justice system is governed by specially created statutes generally associated with the administration of social welfare or programming. As such, these statutes are separate from the adult criminal justice statutes and contain significant differences in the provisions for administering justice. In this regard, the terminology is frequently different as it was developed within a different framework so as not to stigmatize the youthful offender. Within this framework, the terminology frequently differs that used within adult criminal proceedings. For example:

It is important that victim advocates become familiar with the statutory provisions, procedural operation and terminology of the juvenile justice system within their respective locales. The advocate can not only serve to support the victim or victim's family, but can act to advocate for change where necessary.


Each state differs in its definition of youthful offenders who fall under the jurisdiction of and can be governed by juvenile justice statutes:

It is this latter trend that has advanced in the United States during the past decade, with an increasing number of states enacting statutes that provide for youthful offenders to be tried as adults. Many states have enacted statutes that provide that 14- to 17-year-old offenders can be tried and convicted as adults for serious offenses such as murder, rape and crimes involving weapons. Some states, such as Missouri, have no age limitations to remand to adult criminal courts.

One other factor involving age pertains to the period of time a youthful offender can be incarcerated. Many states incarcerate juvenile offenders for a period of up to no more that the age of 25. Others have enacted statutes that provide for the transfer of serious youthful offenders to the adult penal system after a given age to finish the remainder of their designated period of incarceration. Again, it is important for the advocate to become familiar with the various provisions of local statutes as they pertain to age, and the juvenile justice systems as they vary greatly from state to state.


Within the juvenile justice system, most states employ a progressive array of sanctions for juvenile offenders. Among these sanctions are the use of diversionary practices aimed at averting the juvenile justice system and redirecting youthful offenders from their criminal activity. These diversionary opportunities are generally characterized by programs such as parental and child counseling, police youth activities, community service, drug prevention education and informal probation; they are generally used with first time, non-violent offenders.

Every attempt is made to engage juvenile offenders in some endeavor that will serve to provide information regarding the consequences of their actions, while redirecting their "at-risk" behavior into a more positive direction. Often times these programs will impose restitution as a provision of diversion. Victims should understand that this sanction is the earliest form of intervention used with first-time offenders.

Victim Impact Statements

As discussed elsewhere in this curriculum, victims or surviving family members are often given the opportunity to submit or make statements prior to sentencing in adult cases. An increasing number of states are passing statutes which extend the same right to victims and their surviving family members in juvenile cases:


Probation is the sanction used most in both adult and juvenile cases. This sanction of community supervision is imposed by the juvenile court. Probation is generally characterized by requirements, known as terms and conditions of probation, that delineate expected behavior which the probationer must adhere to for a given period of time. Terms and conditions can include educational programs (e.g., GED), community service, counseling programs, restitution requirements and participation in drug counseling programs. Terms and conditions can also be imposed that restrict the offender from contacting the victim or from harassing the victim in any way. Restitution can also be ordered as a term of probation. Differing from diversion, the probationer must have regular contact with a probation officer to demonstrate compliance with conditions of probation.

Community Programming

Often, juvenile courts will commit offenders to select community treatment programs. Such residential counseling centers and drug treatment programs are designed to hold offenders accountable while assisting them in learning the life skills necessary to re-integrate into society. The programs may be located in local communities or within adjoining jurisdictions or states.

Youth Detention Facilities

With the exception of serious and violent offenders, youth detention facilities are generally considered the disposition of last resort for young offenders within the juvenile justice system. Usually operated by state government or private corporations that enter into contractual agreements with jurisdictions, the facilities are the modern day counterparts of the schools of industry that emerged after the turn of the century. The detention facilities of today operate using a combination of contemporary correctional and treatment programs that differ from those within adult institutions. Most continue to operate within a framework of rehabilitation, providing educational and vocational training within an institutional setting. The changing profile of the more violent, less responsive, juvenile offender has also resulted in a greater emphasis upon operating secure facilities with increased attention to incarceration and safety within the institution. Most states are also experiencing problems with overcrowding of facilities, which further impedes rehabilitation efforts.

It is important for advocates and victims alike to understand the differences associated with the operation and administration of youth detention facilitates. Most markedly, youthful offenders are generally required to serve shorter sentences within such facilities than their adult counterparts in prison. Finally, it is important for victims to realize that most youthful offenders are eventually returned to the community.

Parole Hearings

Many states are enacting statutes or administrative policies that afford victims opportunities to participate in juvenile parole hearings. Each parole board considers many factors in determining whether an individual should be released from custody. Among the factors considered are the offender's progress toward educational or vocational goals and his or her overall behavior while incarcerated. In addition, it is important for the juvenile paroling authority to consider the seriousness of the original offense for which the person was incarcerated, and the overall impact upon his or her release back into the community. While many states still restrict such statements at parole hearings, it is increasingly being accepted as an important part of a comprehensive parole eligibility assessment.

Parole Supervision

Similar to probation in its design and functioning, parole (also called "aftercare") is granted to juveniles who are released after having served a period of detention or incarceration when they are returning to society. Parole officers can be a valuable asset to advocates in ensuring that youthful offenders refrain from contacting or harassing the victim of the offender in any way. Generally, when a person successfully completes a period of parole or aftercare supervision, he or she is discharged from the jurisdiction of the state.


Restitution, as described in other chapters contained in this curriculum, is sometimes available to victims of crime. The requirement of the payment of restitution to a victim is an extremely effective tool to hold youthful offenders accountable. Court imposed or diversionary agreements of restitution are very constructive forms of rehabilitation. Youthful offenders can learn much about the impact of their crime by being required to make monthly payments in any amount. Such a payment schedule adds a realistic and constant reminder of the financial impact that their actions had upon the victim. In addition, restitution provides the offender with an opportunity to repay the victim and attempt to "right the wrongs" they have committed against another. Restitution programs present many difficulties from administrative to inability of offenders to pay. These are even more pronounced in juvenile restitution programs. However, this should not deter programs from attempting and enforcing juvenile restitution.

Community restitution is also an effective form of rehabilitation, and often proves satisfactory to victims as a disposition in their case. Offenders are required to perform some community service to satisfy the terms and conditions of diversion or probation. This type of activity often serves to provide the youthful offender with some sense of social responsibility while repaying society and a victim for the negative impact of their criminal activity. In some communities, victims are allowed to offer input into the type of community restitution that their youthful offender must complete.

In many instances, restitution cannot realistically be expected as the offender may be indigent or is sentenced to prison or a detention facility for a long period of time. In other instances, restitution may be difficult as teenagers often have problems finding jobs, and school requirements preclude their involvement in work. Each advocate must be realistic in their work with the victims of juvenile offenders. It is not productive to set unrealistic expectations for restitution payments when the opportunity for success may be limited. Advocates would do well to counsel victims as to the realistic feasibility of restitution in such cases.

Victim Impact Panels

An increasing number of victims and surviving family members have begun to participate in victim impact panels with juvenile offenders, both in non-institutional and institutional settings. Generally guided by victim advocates or organizations, victims of crime have addressed groups of young offenders, describing to them the impact of crime upon their lives. Such panels are conducted for groups of offenders including first-time offenders and those serving periods of incarceration. The panels serve as a form of empowerment to participating victims, as it affords them opportunities to symbolically confront and educate a community of offenders whose behavior represents that which caused them injury or personal suffering. For the offender, victims provide some much needed insight into the impact of their criminal behavior in human terms. Research published by MADD National Office in 1995 shows significant benefits for both victims and offenders.

Victim-Offender Mediation

Victim-offender mediation and conciliation programs involve face-to-face meetings, in the presence of a trained mediator, between an individual who has been victimized by a crime and the perpetrator of that crime. Victim-offender mediation programs operate within the context of the criminal justice system, rather than the civil courts. Historically, these programs have been instituted successfully within the juvenile justice system, most significantly in cases involving property offenses. The purpose of such meetings is to provide the victim with an opportunity to gain insight into the reasons why an offender committed the crime, and to confront that offender regarding the impact of the crime. The meetings also provide the offender with information regarding the real life human consequences of their actions. These meetings often result in agreements in which juvenile offenders perform some restitution-related service directly for the victim. Victim-offender programs also focus on the need for closure, on the expression of feelings, and on greater understanding of the event and of each other. Victim participation in any mediation or conciliation programs must be strictly voluntary. Great caution must be taken to avoid the specter of even the most subtle, unintended coercion of victims to participate.

Federal Initiatives

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 created new federal crime provisions for juvenile offenders. The following is a summary of these provisions:

The Act amended current federal law to permit adult prosecution of 13 to 14-year-olds charged with certain crimes of violence, including robbery or aggravated sexual abuse committed with a firearm. It should be noted that this provision does not apply to offenses committed by Indian juveniles in Indian Country if the jurisdiction for the offense is solely within Indian Country. However, exceptions to this can occur if the tribe elects to subject the tribe to the new provision under the Act.

In addition, the Act adds several serious firearms offenses to prosecuting juvenile offenders as adults. For example, in determining whether a juvenile should be tried as an adult, the Act requires courts to consider the extent to which the juvenile played a leadership role in an organization, or otherwise influenced others to take part in criminal activities, involving the use of, or distribution of, firearms or drugs.

Firearm Safety

The 1994 Violent Crime Control Act establishes a federal offense when juveniles under 18 years of age knowingly possess a handgun or handgun ammunition.

In addition the Act establishes that:

In addition, the penalty for an adult who transfers a handgun or handgun ammunition to a juvenile is generally one year imprisonment. Under the new federal law, if the adult knew or had reasonable cause to know that the juvenile intended to possess or use the handgun or ammunition in a crime of violence, the maximum penalty is 10 years of imprisonment.

Previous federal laws state that a licensed firearms dealer who transfers any firearm to a person under 18 years of age, or any firearm other than a rifle or shotgun to a person under 21 years of age, is subject to a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment.

Juveniles and Drugs

With respect to using minors to distribute drugs in or near a protected zone the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act also created new criminal provisions. The Act tripled the maximum penalty for using a minor to distribute drugs around or within 1,000 feet of a protected location, such as a school, college, playground, or public swimming pool. In addition, it tripled the maximum penalty for using a minor to assist in avoiding detection or apprehension for drug dealing at or near a protected location.

ACA Recommendations on Victims of Juvenile Offenders

In 1994, the American Correctional Association published 16 recommendations to initiate and enhance rights and service for victims of juvenile offenders. This landmark publication included the following:

  1. The rights of victims of juvenile offenders should mirror the rights of victims of adult offenders in the United States. Crime victims should not be discriminated against based upon the age of their offenders.
  2. Crime data and statistics must be better categorized and analyzed according to the age of the offender, the classification of crime, and the type of victim.
  3. Victims must have access to information about their offenders' status. Therefore, restrictions on confidential information relevant to the victim must be removed from juvenile offenders and the agencies that serve them.
  4. Any treatment and/or education programs for juvenile offenders must include a victim awareness component.
  5. Juvenile justice, victim service and allied professionals should collaborate on efforts to adopt and implement the balanced approach of restorative justice as a guide to agency and system policies, programs and services.
  6. Victim/witness and victim assistance programs must be expanded to serve victims of juvenile offenders, and be housed in juvenile courts, probation and corrections departments for easy access by victims and witnesses.
  7. Juvenile justice personnel -- including administrators, managers and line staff -- need victim sensitivity and awareness training included as part of their basic and continuing education. In addition, victim assistance personnel need training on juvenile justice policies, procedures and programs.
  8. Juvenile corrections agencies must adopt protocol, programs, policies and training for field, custody and support staff on how to respond to staff victimization and critical incidents.
  9. There must be updated comprehensive literature reviews and research into existing statutory and constitutional protections affecting victims of juvenile crime, along with existing programs and policies that pertain to victims of juvenile crime.
  10. Existing victim service and victim awareness programs within the juvenile justice and juvenile corrections systems must be evaluated, with the data utilized to enhance, expand and replicate effective programs nationwide.
  11. Juvenile offender management and tracking systems should incorporate databases that include information about crime victims and rights relevant to the juvenile offenders' cases.
  12. There must be improved efforts to network and provide comprehensive cross-training among local, state and national juvenile justice officials, juvenile corrections professionals and associations, and local, state and national victim service professionals and associations.
  13. All programs and services designed to assist victims of juvenile offenders must understand and respect diversity of juvenile offenders and their victims -- by culture, gender, geography, race and religion -- in order to be truly effective.
  14. All U.S. Department of Justice agencies that provide research, evaluation, training and technical assistance relevant to juvenile justice and/or crime victims should designate a staff position specific to victims of juvenile offenders.
  15. The American Correctional Association should conduct public hearings to receive testimony from juvenile corrections professionals, juvenile justice officials, victim service providers, crime victims and allied professionals about all topics relevant to victims and victim services within the juvenile justice system.
  16. The American Correctional Association should adopt these Victims Committee recommendations as a foundation for Association policy on victims of juvenile offenders.

U.S. Department of Justice Initiatives

In the National Juvenile Justice Action Plan published in 1996, the U.S. Department of Justice affirmed its commitment to supporting improved rights and services for victims of juvenile offenders. The Plan included the following response to victims' concerns:

"As a civilized society, we need to feel safe in the company of people who walk our streets and attend our schools. Even if we improve the juvenile justice system so that it is capable of providing treatment, skills training, and rehabilitation, mechanisms must be in place to provide information about juvenile offenders and support the rights of victims. Simultaneously, however, we need to ensure that reasonable confidentiality protections are afforded to juvenile offenders.

The Action Plan endorses the presence of victims in the courtroom, particularly in felony cases. Victims of juvenile offenders should be given the opportunity to address the court and be notified of the disposition, parole status, and release of perpetrators. It also supports programs that help young offenders understand the long-term effects of their behavior and learn how to control anger and resolve conflicts without violence. . . ."

In addition, the Action Plan endorsed the ACA recommendations cited above relevant to victims' participatory rights, access to information, victim awareness programs for youthful offenders, and training and collaborative efforts among victim services and juvenile justice professionals.

The Office for Victims of Crime has provided leadership and resources to promote victims' rights and services in juvenile justice. In 1995, OVC funded three forums sponsored by the National Organization for Victim Assistance to address these issues. In 1996 and 1997, OVC plans to assess the current state of victims' rights and services in juvenile justice, and develop training resources that highlight promising practices.

In addition, OVC has provided input and advice to national organizations that are seeking ways to improve victim involvement in juvenile court, treatment and rehabilitation, and probation and aftercare processes. OVC-funded projects -- such as victim impact statement guidelines, resources for victims of gang violence, and promising practices in corrections -- all include important components relevant to victims of juvenile offenders.


During the past decade, the overall profile of juvenile crimes and juvenile offenders has changed significantly. Gone are the days when youthful offenders were mere truants or spirited youth engaging in crimes like joyriding or the theft of phonograph records. The profile of today's juvenile offender has grown increasingly violent and progressively more bold in the commission and violent nature of their crimes. Fueled by the influx of highly addictive drugs such as crack cocaine, the aggressive influence of gangs, and the indiscriminate use of weapons, today's youthful offender is responsible for more serious crimes than those committed by his or her counterpart at the turn of the century. Consequently today's juvenile justice system is challenged by this changing profile of offenders. The role of the victim advocate is also challenged as each becomes engaged in the lives of the victims of these youthful offenders.

The challenges presented to the victim advocate working with victims of juvenile crimes are very different then that of others working within the adult criminal justice system. The juvenile justice system presents more barriers to obtaining information and accessibility on behalf of the victim and the victim's family. The juvenile justice system of today is undergoing increasing scrutiny, as well as timely, significant changes. The advocate working with victims within the juvenile justice system encounters the challenge of not only serving as advocates for the victim, but may be challenged to serve as advocates for change as well.

Self Examination Chapter 21, Section 4

Juvenile Justice

1) Describe the historical purpose of the creation of the juvenile justice system.

2) Discuss the concept of confidentiality in the juvenile justice system.

3) Describe two characteristics that are unique to victims of juvenile offenders, and two characteristics that differentiate juvenile justice systems from adult criminal justice systems.

4) Describe the new federal crime provisions for juvenile offenders as enacted under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

5) Briefly describe the components of your proposed, ideal juvenile justice assistance system.


Bureau of Justice Statistics. (1992). National crime victimization survey, 1991 (machine-readable data file). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Bureau of Justice Statistics. (1992). Criminal victimization in the United States, 1991. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Snyder, H. N. & Sickmund, M. (1995). Juvenile offenders and victims: A focus on violence. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

To Chapter 21-Section 5

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