The Juvenile Court: A Second Chance | Teen Ink

The Juvenile Court: A Second Chance

May 1, 2010
By Sketched97 PLATINUM, Silver Spring, Maryland
Sketched97 PLATINUM, Silver Spring, Maryland
31 articles 4 photos 167 comments

Until the 18th century, crime and punishment was the natural order of life, but the juvenile court changed this. The Society for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency advocated separating adolescent and adult offenders in 1825, but the first juvenile court was not created until 1899. The idea, “we diagnose the behavioral problem then treat it, not punish the criminal” came about (United States 12). The court is not about punishing a criminal for their acts but instead it is about treating the offender so they can become productive members of society. In this way, the juvenile court was founded upon utilitarian ideas, or made for the good of the society. The creation of the juvenile court, the juvenile court act, and juvenile justice is also driven by unique programs with an objective to convert juvenile delinquents into productive members of society. Depending on the severity of the offense, age of the offender, and sex of the offender a variety of programs are more or less effective (Columbia Law School). The Juvenile Court and juvenile court act created in Cook County, Illinois, in 1899 changed the lives of many adolescents in the United States and was fueled by utilitarian ideas.
The juvenile court was founded upon utilitarian ideas or made for the good of the society (United States). Until the 18th century criminals were thought as “deserving” punishment (8-9). The idea of treating a criminal instead was shown through Blackstone, Bentham, Ferri, and Beccaria’s ideas. These individuals did not use the idea of justice or injustice, but instead the idea of what punishing the criminal would do for the society (9). These ideas applied for the juvenile court. It was not about whether the juveniles deserved the punishment, but how the juvenile court would help the society. In the same way, the juvenile courts role was to issue decisions in the “best interest of the child consistent with the interests of the public” (Measuring Impact 1). Scholars criticize the vagueness of this idea. Also, the juvenile court act of 1899 does not mention punishment of a child for a criminal act, only the treatment and control of the kind a parent would give a child. The courts were required to accord to all adolescent criminal law violators “care, custody, and discipline,” not punishment.
Blackstone was one of the individuals who supported utilitarianism and therefore was important to the creation of the juvenile court (United States 9). Blackstone believed that criminal law should be “founded upon principles that are permanent, uniform, and universal; and always conformable to the dictates of justice, the feelings of humanity, and the indelible rights of mankind.” Nevertheless, Blackstone believed that punishment for crime was not a dictate of natural justice, but rather a practical utilitarian necessity. Blackstone expressed his goals of criminal law in terms of utilitarianism through achieving civil peace and order, rather than in terms of justice or fair treatment being given to an individual offender or victim.

Jeremy Bentham was also an important figure in the ideas of utilitarianism and therefore the creation of the juvenile court (United States 9). Bentham proposed the idea of utilitarianism. He posed the question not of whether the offender deserved punishment for his wrongdoing but instead with the question of whether or not the punishment will be useful for the good of society. Bentham once said, “The greatest good for the greatest number.” This quote questions whether or not the policies benefit the majority of the population. Bentham’s reasoning was that humans act on the basis of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain and the threat of punishment would discourage potential criminals from committing illegal acts.

Cesare Beccaria was an important figure in Italy around the time of Bentham and Blackstone (United States 10). Cesare Beccaria also adopted the utilitarian rather than a justice theory of criminal law, which eventually led to the juvenile court. Beccaria believed that for each crime there should be an appropriate penalty, as he says, “to make punishment fit the crime” (United States 10). Beccaria was outraged at the severity of criminal punishment of his time. In his book Of Crimes and Punishment Beccaria wrote of punishments, “it should be public, immediate, and necessary, the least possible in the case given, proportioned to the crime, and determined by the laws” (Beccaria). He believed that it was not severity, but promptness and certainty of punishment that discouraged criminality.
Enrico Ferri was an Italian criminologist after Beccaria’s time. Ferri’s theory was that criminal had little, if any, control over the forces acting upon them (United States 13). These were tendencies that were developed at a young age or forces that can be found in the criminal’s social or economic environment. Therefore, moral punishment would be unjust, and restraint punishment would likely not to be useful. Ferri led the way to a new type of criminology came about with the aims to eliminate criminal responsibility and moral guilt as the foundation of criminal law and replace it with the idea of “social defense.” The question was not of the guilt they could put on a criminal, but what measures could be taken to prevent a society’s future harm. This is when treatment replaced punishment, an idea that eventually went into creating the juvenile justice system in 1899.
The juvenile justice system was created to treat the juvenile delinquents, not punish them. This goal is embedded in history from significant individuals such as Blackstone, Bentham, Beccaria, and Ferri (United States). However, it is unclear the age where juveniles should be tried as adults (9). The common deciding line for criminal liability throughout history, found in Mosaic and Roman law, was divided into two categories (18). Under seven, and between seven and the attained age of puberty around ages twelve to fourteen, after that you were tried as an adult. In England, Blackstone said, “The period between seven and fourteen is subject to much uncertainty” (United States 18). Eventually, it came about that juveniles were held responsible if they were old enough to understand what they were doing. However there was no middle ground, they were either held responsible or not held responsible. America adopted this from Roman law, and it eventually led to the creation of the juvenile justice system. In the United States, nevertheless, it is becoming easier to try juveniles as adults. This also led to an dispute concerning due process rights. In other words, the disagreement over whether or not adolescents were being treated as fairly as adults. The 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case of In Re Gault held that juveniles were entitled to the same due process rights as adults (Cook v. Gault). In re Gault held that adolescents should be treated just as fairly as adults are treated. Another case was Kent versus United States in 1966. This case lead to the right to hearing, counsel, access to court records, and the requirement of the judge to state the appropriateness of transfer (Kent v. United States).
There are a variety of programs created to aid juvenile delinquents to become productive citizens. This goal can be achieved through different programs to accommodate the juvenile’s needs. Gender, age, and nature of the offense are factors that decide what programs will be helpful for the juvenile delinquent (Columbia Law School). The lack of gender specific programs makes the programs less beneficial (“Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice Annual Report 2004). As a result, the arrest rate in females has risen significantly since 1981.
The variety of programs can aid juvenile delinquents into becoming active members of society. Boot camps are one of these programs. They emphasize military style discipline and physical condition (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention “Juvenile Boot Camps”). In 1992 The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) funded three juvenile boot camps designed to address the needs of juvenile offenders. The programs were conducted in Cleveland, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; and Mobile, Alabama. Most juvenile boot camp participants completed the program and continued to aftercare. Program completion rates were 96% in Cleveland, 87% percent in Mobile, and 76% in Denver. The findings included substantial academic improvement. In Mobile about three-quarters of the participants improved by about one grade level or more in reading, spelling, and math skills. In addition, many participants found jobs while in aftercare. However, the studies did not show a reduction in recidivism, or being rearrested. The lessons learned from the study are that that correct population should be targeted for boot camps. At one site it is found that youth with less serious offenses were slightly less likely to recidivate then youth that had been previously confined. Also, facility location was found to be important. Cost issues and community resistance became difficulties when securing residential and aftercare facilities. Also, staff selection and training needs are critical, aftercare programs are difficult to apply and require attention, coordination among agencies must be maintained, and when boot camps are used as an alternative to confinement savings can be attained, but not when used as an alternative to probation.
Community Involvement is also a program used in the juvenile justice system. It includes volunteer groups and youth groups. It also provides juvenile offenders an opportunity to interact in a safe social environment. Another program is Functional Family Therapy (Greene). During functional family therapy a family therapist works with the offender and the family with the goal to have a better environment at home. Data from numerous studies show that functional family therapy can reduce recidivism rates by 25% to 60%. It also shows cost effectiveness as compared to other programs. There is an 80% successful completion rate and is a short-term treatment of 8 to 12 weeks. Functional family therapy is a successful way to treat juvenile delinquents. Programs such as juvenile boot camps, functional family therapy, and community involvement represent actions that are taken to help treat the juveniles, which is seen as the main goal of the juvenile court. Besides programs, other actions have been taken to help treat juveniles. For example, in 1939 the Wellsboro Gazette published an article about a meeting of Wellsboro’s juvenile grange (Juvenile Grange). During the meeting it was decided to keep a scrapbook of juvenile events. This is an example of actions taken to improve treatment for juveniles.
Juvenile Probation is a program that led to the juvenile court act of 1899 (Livers). Probation has been an important part of the court system for a long time, and juvenile probation was present long before the juvenile court. It has remained the foundation of the juvenile justice system. Before juvenile court some offenders from eastern cities would be shipped west to live with farm families. Also, in the early 1840’s, Boston shoemaker John Augustus bailed out juveniles and kept a close eye on them. By the time of his death in 1859 Augustus has provided bail for over 1900 juveniles and adults. This was a form of juvenile probation, and over more then 100 years probation is still an important part of the nations juvenile justice system. In the 1990’s over half of the nations juvenile court caseload received juvenile probation. Juvenile probation was an important factor in the creation of the juvenile court and is still an important program in juvenile justice in the United States. Juvenile probation is an example of a program taken to ensure treatment of an offender rather than punishment. In addition to the programs and actions mentioned, many other programs and actions are taken to help adolescents in the United States become productive citizens.
Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ) is a recent plan dedicated to repairing harm suffered by victims, build safer communities, and assist adolescents so they can become productive citizens (“Measuring Impact”). BARJ is a program designed to enhance the juvenile justice system by taking in new ideas such as accountability and restitution, or paying back the community. All 50 states currently apply BARJ in their juvenile justice system (“Measuring Impact”). Deschutes County, Oregon, was the first jurisdiction in the country to adopt Balanced and Restorative Justice as the mission of its juvenile justice system. BARJ involves the victims, citizens, families, and community groups in the court procedure. BARJ is a policy that calls the juvenile court to build community protection, accountability, and competency development measures into every case. Restorative justice, restitution, and accountability have become important measures in the juvenile court system.
Restorative justice is one of the main focuses of BARJ (“Measuring Impact”). In restorative justice, restoring harm caused by the offender is the main focus of the court. The victim is viewed as a primary client of the court procedure, and their participation throughout the process is welcome. Repairing their harm is seen as the primary consideration of the court process. Restitution is also a main focus of BARJ. Restitution, similar to restorative justice, is paying back the community. As restitution was taking hold in the late 70’s and early 80’s so was serious juvenile crime. Community protection then became a critical component of juvenile court proceedings. OJJDP launched the Juvenile Restitution program in 1977. The program targeted the concept of accountability in the juvenile justice system. In the program offenders must “pay back” the victims.

Alcohol, drug, and mental health (ADM) disorders are common among youth in the juvenile justice system. Lack of mental health professionals has caused this (Livers). Beginning in 1995, researchers observed ADM disorders among 1,830 delinquent youth (1,172 males and 658 females) held in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago, Illinois. Data on educational deficits, criminal history, history of sexual and physical abuse, and demographic variables were collected (Office Of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention “Assessing Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Disorders”). Researchers assessed if and when juveniles in need of ADM services receive them and which system, mental health, juvenile justice, or adult corrections, provides them. They also examined drug use, violence, and sexual activity, three behaviors often associated with ADM disorders, and the sequences of these activities and ADM disorders. The findings show that two-thirds of the youth in the juvenile justice system have one or more ADM disorders, and that females have far greater mental health needs and risk factors than males. The data also suggests that nationwide more than 670,000 youth in the juvenile justice system each year suffer from one or more ADM disorders that require mental health or substance abuse treatment.

Preliminary data from Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, IL, also show that two-thirds of detained youth have one or more ADM disorder (“Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice” 12). In a study of 292 male juvenile entering long term commitment facilities in Illinois and New Jersey found that in the month prior to commitment 68% were diagnosed with a ADM disorders. This could be in part of the lack of mental health professionals. The U.S. Department of Health and Human services, Office of Surgeon General, 1999, reports a short supply of mental health services across the country. Also, Senator Susan Collins found that juvenile detention facilities spend about $100 million each year to house youth waiting for mental health services. Mental Health experts and juvenile justice practitioners agree that services available in the juvenile justice system to address ADM disorders are inadequate.
The Juvenile Court was established from utilitarian values. It was an important innovation because it was made to help juveniles, as opposed to punishing them as in criminal, or adult, courts. The ideas of Blackstone, Bentham, and Ferri fueled the utilitarian ideas that were the foundation of the juvenile court. Also, programs such as boot camps and community involvement helped juvenile delinquents become productive citizens. The goals of BARJ, restitution, and restorative justice, aimed the court to repair harm suffered by victims, build safer communities, and help offenders become productive citizens. Also, many juveniles in the juvenile justice system suffer from ADM disorders due to the lack of certified professionals. The juvenile court, created in Cook County, Illinois, was an important innovation because it treated juvenile delinquents as children in need of aid, encouragement, and guidance rather than criminals.

Works Cited
Primary Sources:
Beccaria, Cesare. Of Crimes and Punishment. Trans. Edward D. Ingraham. 1819. Philadelphia : Philip H. Nicklin, 1918. N. pag. Consitution. Web. 18 Nov. 2009. <>.
Cook v. Gault. No. 116. Supreme Court of the US. 15 May 1967. Supreme Court collection . N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2009. <>.
“Juvenile Grange.” Wellsboro Gazette 2 Feb. 1939: 4. Green Free LIbrary. Web. 2 Nov. 2009. <¤tResult=0¤tPage=0>.
Kent v. United States. 21 Mar. 1966. Supreme Court collection. Cornell University Law School, n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2009. <http:///>.
Secondary Sources:
Columbia Law School. “The Center on Crime, Community and Law.” The Boundaries of the Juvenile Court. Columbia Law School, 2009. Web. 28 Sept. 2009. <>.
Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice. Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice Annual Report 2004. N.p.: n.p., 2005.
Greene, Deborah L. “Functional Family Therapy in New York State.” 2003. Microsoft PowerPoint file.
Livers, Mary L. “U.s History.” Office of Juvenile Justice. State of Louisiana , n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2009. <>.
“Measuring Impact.” Community Justice Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2009. <>.
United States. Dept. of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Justice For Juveniles. N.p.: n.p., 1986.
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention . Assessing Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Disorders in Juvenile Detainees . By Linda A. Teplin. NCJRS. U.S. Department of Justice , Jan. 2001. Web. 22 Nov. 2009. <>.
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. . Juvenile Boot Camps: Lessons Learned. By Shay Bilchik. N.p.: n.p., 1996.

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This article has 1 comment.

We-R-3 BRONZE said...
on May. 22 2010 at 12:14 am
We-R-3 BRONZE, Orlando, Florida
1 article 0 photos 344 comments

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I used to look at the juvenile court just as a smaller punishment to child criminals, like how losing your allowance is teaching what losing a job would be like, this peice was very insightful and I picked up a lot of knowledge from it.