Youth Crime -- The Juvenile System

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The History of Juvenile Justice


This website is dedicated to the millions of troubled youth in the United States, and around the world.  It is my hope that this website will help people better understand today's youth.  I also hope that this website will inspire people to think harder, and  to come up with solutions to the many problems facing our youth of today. 

There is not one, but fifty-one juvenile justice systems in the United States. Each system has its own history and set of laws and policies and delivers services to juvenile delinquents in its own way.

Houses of Refuge

In the early 1800’s, many reformers became alarmed over the overcrowded conditions in the lockups, and the corruption that youth experienced when confined with adult felons. The first House of Refuge opened in New York in the year 1825, as a facility solely for children. By the 1840’s, 53 more were built around the country. Houses of Refuge were not restricted to children who had committed crimes. They were also dwellings for poor children, orphans, or any child thought to be hopeless or rebellious. The typical number of children in any given House was 200.  In some instances, like the New York House of Refuge, over 1,000 youth at any given time were being housed.  

History of the Juvenile Court

Up Until the late 19th century, children were put on trial in criminal courts along with adults. The 16th century educational reform movement in England perceived children to be different than little adults. 

Around 1825, the Society for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency, and other reform organizations started advocating for a separate court system for society's youth.  In the year 1899, the first juvenile court was established in Cook County, Illinois.  By 1925, all but two U.S. states had established juvenile courts.  The primary motive of the juvenile court was to provide rehabilitation and caring supervision for the adolescent.  The juvenile court, with its rehabilitative mission, could be much more flexible and informal than the criminal court.  Due process protections, an attorney for the state and the youth were deemed unnecessary.  Then, in the 1980's the public agreed that juvenile crime was on the rise, and that the system was too compassionate.  Many states passed punitive laws.  Mandatory sentences, and automatic waivers to adult courts were used for certain crimes.  In the 1990's the tough on crime trend accelerated.  Transfer requirements made it easier to transfer juvenile offenders to the criminal justice system.

According to Randy Borum and David Verhaagen, authors of Assessing and Managing Violence Risk in Juveniles, understanding and preventing youth violence is a major concern for professionals.  How can a society determine the level of risk for future violence when asked to evaluate a juvenile in the justice system with a hstory of aggression, a student who behaves menacingly in school, or a teen who makes a threatening statement in a therapy session?

Helping Today's Troubled Youth

The Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act - 1968

In 1968 Congress passed the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act. The act was designed to encourage states to develop plans and programs that would work on a community level to discourage juvenile delinquency. The programs, once drafted and approved, would receive federal funding. The Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act was a precursor to the extensive Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act that replaced it in 1974.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act - 1974

By 1974 the U.S. had developed a strong momentum toward preventing juvenile delinquency, deinstitutionalizing youth already in the system, and keeping juvenile offenders separate from adults offenders. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 created the following entities:

  • The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)
  • The Runaway Youth Program, and
  • The National Institute for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NIJJDP)

In order to receive funds made available by the act, states were required to remove youth from "secure detention and correctional facilities," and separate juvenile delinquents from convicted adults. Part of the rationale behind the separation of juvenile and adult offenders was evidence that delinquent youth learned worse criminal behavior from older inmates.

Troubled Teens

Many of the female teenage juvenile offenders who enter juvenile halls, or detention centers, have experienced with prostitution.  Many of these young girls have pimps who wait for them to reenter society, so that they can continue to "pimp" them.

Juvenile Offenders -- Who are They?

California's Proposition 21:  Juvenile Crime

California's Proposition 21 was approved by the voters in the year 2000.  This new proposition expanded the types of cases for which juveniles can be tried in adult court. In addition, the measure increased penalties for gang-related crimes.  It also made it mandatory for all convicted gang members to register with local law enforcement.

In California, the juvenile justice system is a local responsibility. Following the arrest of a juvenile, the police officer has the discretion to release the juvenile to his or her parents.  On the other hand, the enforcement officer may take the juvenile  to one of the juvenile hall facilities, and refer the case to the county probation department. Probation officials will then decide how to process the cases referred to them. For example, probation can choose to close the case at intake.  Or, probation can place a juvenile offender on informal probation, with the permission of the juvenile's parents. About one-half of the cases that are referred to the probation department,  result in the filing of a petition with the juvenile court for a hearing. In the year 2005, approximately 99,000 petitions were filed in juvenile court. 

Taking the recommendations of the probation department staff, the juvenile court judges will decide whether to make the juvenile offender a ward of the court, and they will determine the appropriate placement and treatment for the juvenile. The placement decisions will be  based on such factors as the juvenile’s offense, does he/she have a prior record, criminal sophistication, and whether the county has the capacity to provide treatment.  Many judges declare the juvenile offender a ward of the court almost two-thirds of the time. Most juvenile wards are placed under the supervision of the county probation department.  Many of these youth are typically placed in a county facility for treatment.  Usually they are housed in a  juvenile hall, a camp, or they are supervised at home. Other wards may be placed in a foster care home, or a group home.

Chronic Juvenile Offenders

A very small number of wards (under 2 percent annually), constituting the state’s most serious and chronic juvenile offenders, are sometimes committed by the juvenile court to the CDCR’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) (previously known as the Department of the Youth Authority).  These youth become the state's responsibility.  Juveniles tried in adult criminal court for serious or violent crimes, are placed in a DJJ facility until their 18th birthday.  After they turn 18 years of age, they are transferred to a state prison for the remainder of their prison sentence.

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