Juvenile Justice: Overview
- Rosemary C. SarriRosemary C. SarriUniversity of Michigan, Emerita
The juvenile justice system was established with the founding of the Juvenile Court in Chicago in 1900, an institution that spread to all the states in a short period of time. The history, organization, structure and operations of the system are described along with its growth along with increasing Among the key issues examined are: gender, overrepresentation of children of color, placement of mentally ill and abused or neglected children, human rights and reintegration of juvenile offenders after their returning home.
The establishment of the juvenile court in Illinois in 1899 led to the development of the United States juvenile justice system, which was mandated to provide for the processing, adjudication, and rehabilitation of juveniles charged with criminal violations, as well as for the care and treatment of abused and neglected children. Social advocates such as Jane Addams as well as crusading judges like Ben Lindsey (Tanenhaus, 2002) established the system, emphasizing care and treatment rather than punishment and control. The response to this new social invention was rapid, and the juvenile court spread throughout the United States in less than 25 years. Since that time it has become a model for the legal processing of children in much of the developed world. Although the juvenile court still retains jurisdiction over the processing of abuse and neglect cases, most of the processing care and supervision of those cases lie within the child welfare system while the juvenile justice system focuses primarily on youth charged with delinquency or status offenses. As of 2002, more than 3.1 million youth were under juvenile court supervision annually with ∼1.6 million new cases processed each year (Snyder & Sickmund 2006).
The principles underlying the creation of this social institution were that children were developmentally immature and required protection; they were malleable and could be habilitated or rehabilitated; and the court should aid children suffering from a broad range of problems different from adults. Children were assumed to be dependent, developing physically and psychologically, in need of care and nurturance. They differed from adults by having lesser capacity for reasoning and moral judgment; thus they were less culpable for their behavior (Tanenhaus, 2002). Because the focus was on the rehabilitation of offenders, its development had an impact on court procedures, and resulted in a theory of state responsibility for children as represented in the concept of parens patriae.
Prior to the establishment of the juvenile court, juveniles charged with delinquent acts were primarily tried in the criminal justice system, but even then age played a role in presumptions of guilt because juveniles below the age of 14 were presumed not to possess sufficient criminal responsibility to commit a crime. The creation of the juvenile court altered this presumption in part, providing almost exclusive jurisdiction over individuals below the age of 18 who were charged with violating criminal laws in most states. Hearings were to be informal, private, “in the best interest of the child,” and civil rather than criminal. These tenets constituted a separate system of justice that recognized the differences between children and adults (Zimring, 2002).
State legislation permitted judges to use their discretion in conducting hearing and prescribing interventions. To meet their statutory goals, the juvenile justice system employed a range of programs and services—including prevention, diversion, detention, probation, community services, and residential treatment (Rosenheim, 2002). For most of the 20th century, judges heard juvenile cases and then diverted them to community services outside the court, but substantial numbers were institutionalized even for extended periods.
1960–1980. In many communities, the court failed to meet the goals of its founders to be responsible for the provision of rehabilitation. Beginning in the 1960s, the human rights movement influenced developments in juvenile justice because of growing concern that juveniles receive due process and protection of their civil liberties. Decisions of the Supreme Court in cases such as Kent v. U.S. 383U.S. 541 (1966), In re Gault 387 U.S.1 (1967), and In re Winship 397 U.S. 352 (1970) led to many new social policy initiatives to protect children's rights to challenge arbitrary dispositions. A series of national commission reports (Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice and the Task Force on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime, 1974) had positive effects, extending human rights along with policies of decriminalization, deinstitutionalization, and diversion. By the 1970s passage of the first federal juvenile justice legislation, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act of 1974, funded state efforts to reduce institutionalization and increase local community-based programming.
1980–2000. The progress of the 1960s and 1970s was dramatically reversed in the 1980s and 1990s, with the passage of federal and state legislation that emphasized incarceration and punishment, along with withdrawal of the distinction between juveniles and adults as far as certain criminal behavior was concerned. As a century of the juvenile court was celebrated in 2000, laws and philosophy had returned to many practices in place before the invention of the juvenile court. Thousands of juveniles were held in adult prisons and jails, often under very punitive conditions (Lerman, 2000). Feld (1999) argues that judicial, administrative, and legislative decisions transformed the court into a second-class criminal court that did not serve the interests of children. Much of the transformation appeared to be “justified” by the increase in juvenile crime between 1985 and 1995 (Bishop, 2000). However, after 1995 there was a dramatic decline in juvenile crime that continued through 2005, especially serious violent crime, but there has not been a corresponding reduction in the numbers of juveniles processed (Snyder & Sickmund 2006).
Since 2000. Much of the discussion about the juvenile justice system in the early 21st century neglects the changes in the societal context in which it operates. Garland (2001) and Beckett and Western (2000) point to the increasing culture of control and the declining provision of social welfare benefits for the population at risk for involvement in the justice system. Family structure has undergone and is undergoing substantial changes that affect children because single parents are unable to provide the necessary supervision and support, especially in critical adolescent years. The increasing rates of poverty, the decline of public school education, the lack of physical and mental health care, and the changing economic structure in which well-paying blue collar jobs are unavailable for young adults have had a pronounced effect on these vulnerable youth since the mid-1990s. Millions are spent on incarceration and control but little is available to prepare the middle- and working-class youth population for successful adulthood (Osgood, Foster, Flanagan, & Ruth 2005; Setterstein, Furstenberg, & Rumbaut 2005). All these factors affect juvenile crime in the society and thereby the operation of the juvenile justice system.
Organization and Structure
The juvenile justice system is composed of the statutes and policies as well as organizations charged with responsibility for the processing of juveniles who violate state laws and local ordinances (Roberts, 2004). The legal definition of delinquency and crime varies from state to state as to age of juvenile court jurisdiction and the roles of the various court officials responsible for the processing of juveniles into and through the court. The processing typically includes the following:
Arrest and referral of a juvenile to the court for a law violation; some police may have warning and diversion alternatives.
Juvenile court intake includes referral for trial, diversion of minor offenders, detention, and preliminary assessment.
Filing of a formal petition and deciding to try the youth in juvenile court or transfer the youth to adult court for criminal processing.
Hearing or trial by the court and determination of innocence or guilt.
Disposition decision making by the judge and placement in a program for those adjudicated as delinquent for an indeterminate or specific period of time, depending upon state laws or judicial discretion, and release or special sanctions for the others.
Reintegration or reentry programming, which is formalized as parole, but may also be informally and unevenly provided.
More than 2.2 million youth below the age of 18 were arrested in 2003, but only 25% were arrested for serious person or property crimes or “index” crimes as these are defined (Snyder & Sickmund 2006). The remaining offenses were misdemeanors, drug offenses, and public order or status offenses. Juvenile crime increased substantially in the late 1980s, but by 2003 most violent crime had fallen below that observed in 1980 (Stahl et al., 2005). Of those arrested 1.615 million cases were referred to the juvenile court in 2002. Cases not referred may be diverted to other agencies, particularly “status offenses;” those behaviors that are included in the jurisdiction of the juvenile court in many states but are not classified as crimes. Status offenses include running away, incorrigibility, truancy, and liquor law violations.
Fifty-eight percent of the all cases are formally petitioned and 42% are dismissed or referred to a variety of social agencies for services. If petitioned 67% can be expected to be adjudicated delinquent and subsequently 62% are placed on probation and 22% receive an out-of-the-home placement, most often in a residential institution. Even at the final disposition stage, juvenile cases are dismissed, and youth are released or given other sanctions outside the formal justice system. Waiver to adult court will result for about 1% of the cases, but that number declined since 2002 (Bishop, 2000). However, it varies widely among the states reflecting the differences in state statutes. Overall, fewer than 10% of the youth who enter the court ultimately end up in a correctional institution.
Delinquency case rates overall were 51.6 per 1,000 youth aged 10–17 years in 2002, but there were marked variations by age from 4.6 per 1,000 for 10-year-old youth to 109.1 per 1,000 for those 17 years old. The overall rate was far lower than the rate of 81.6 in 1994, a reflection of the decline in crime by juveniles during a period of substantial population growth (Snyder & Sickmund 2006). There are sex differences by age in that female crime peaks at 16 years while the peak age for males is 17.
As Table 1 indicates, the largest number of youth held in custody out of their homes is held in detention. The rate of 10.2 per 1,000 youth is nearly 3 times the rate of those in placement following adjudication. Placement in detention is important because it is predictive of subsequent adjudication and referral to an institution. The numbers in detention increased substantially after 1985, with drug cases explaining most of the increase (140%). Frequently arrested for drug violations, African American males are 37% of all detainees and their detention is a key factor in their overall disproportionate representation in the juvenile justice system (Snyder & Sickmund 2006).
In the decade between 1990 and 2000 formal handling of juvenile court cases increased from 49.8% to 57.7% (McNeece & Jackson 2004). Not surprisingly, there were subsequent increases in adjudications, waivers, and placements as formalization increased.
On a given day in 2004, 96,655 youth were held in public and private correctional facilities (Snyder & Sickmund 2006). Annually more than 145,000 youth adjudicated for delinquency are sent to an out-of-home placement for a specified period or an indefinite stay. This is a small percentage of the more than 2.2 million youth arrested, and the numbers in placement declined after 2000, following the increases in most states during the 1990s when the juvenile crime rate was substantially higher.
Table 1 Youth Population and Processing Rates
Population, 10–17 years
Juvenile arrests (2004)
Referrals to juvenile court—delinquency
Petitions to juvenile court
Assigned to probation
Placed out of home
Waived to adult criminal court
Rates are calculated at the numbers per 1,000 youth processed during the year 2002.
Table 2 Delinquency Offense and Placement Profile, 2002
Referral to Court
Type of Crime
From Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report, by Snyder, H. N., and Sickmund, M., 2006, Washington, DC: OJJDP, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Copyright 2006 by the U.S. Department of Justice. Reprinted with permission.
Females account for 15% of the juveniles in custody in public and private facilities, but of that total 40% are placed for status offenses as their most serious offense. As Table 2 indicates, male youth in custody have a more serious crime profile than do females, and they tend to remain longer in placement. The majority of youth are held in public facilities, but one-third is placed in private institutions.
Youth charged with person crimes have a higher probability of postadjudication placement than those charged with property or public order crimes. Among the person crimes, there has been a substantial increase in processing and institutionalization of juveniles as sexual offenders for extended periods followed by placement of their names on a public registry. Zimring (2004) strongly criticizes the punitiveness of some of these practices. Although a relatively small percentage of youth are charged with drug crimes, they are likely to be placed out of the home because of the lack of drug treatment facilities in many communities. The profile of offenders in public versus private facilities does not vary significantly. Out-of-home placement rose by 44% during the late 1990s but since 2000 has declined by 12%, primarily among property and person offenders. Increases in placement on probation appear to be the explanation.
Young females' rising rates of involvement with the juvenile justice system now receive increased attention. Their rate of arrest rose to 29% of total juvenile arrests in 2002, and the involvement of young women in certain crimes (larceny, drugs and simple assault) has risen more sharply than that of males (Snyder, 2006). Because the number of male offenders is so much larger, percentage comparisons are misleading. It is less clear that female crime has increased commensurate to their involvement in the justice system, for example, their detention and placement in residential programs for status offenses, primarily involving family conflict. The rising rate of their involvement may be partly the result of changing policies and practices that serve to bring more young women under the care and control of the justice system, for example, the referral of girls in need of mental health services to the justice system. It has been noted that 60–70% of the youth in juvenile justice have a diagnosable mental health problem with more females than males so diagnosed (Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 2000; Grisso, 2004).
Evidence-Based Models of Intervention
Because it has been shown that there is a wide range of factors that cause or are associated with delinquency, it is not surprising that there are many programs for prevention, early intervention, alternatives to incarceration, community-based intervention, and residential treatment. Using meta-analysis techniques, Lipsey and Wilson (1998) found the following characteristics to be associated with greater effectiveness:
The integrity of the treatment model implementation.
Longer duration of treatment produces better results.
Results from well-established programs exceed new programs.
Treatment administered by mental health professionals.
Emphasis on interpersonal skills training.
Use of the teaching family home methods.
Overall, they found community-based programs to be more effective than programs in custodial settings, so the context for the treatment is important. Voluntary participation was shown to be more effective than that which is coerced, and there are ways by which voluntary assent can be achieved. Greenwood (2006) shows that balanced and restorative justice (BARJ) programs can integrate restitution and community service by which an offender can repair the harm he or she may have caused. A report of the U.S. Surgeon General on Youth Violence (2001) concurs that many programs are effective with delinquent youth, but they emphasize the importance of the quality of implementation.
Elliot and his colleagues at the Center for the Study and Prevention of Youth Violence have developed “Blueprints” of 10 programs meeting rigorous criteria that include demonstrated positive outcomes on problem behavior that persists beyond a youth's involvement in a program. They can be consulted at http://www.colorado.edu/cspu/blueprints for technical assistance regarding the programs that they regard as effective. (Michalic, Fagan, Irwin, Ballard, & Elliot 2002).
Greenwood (2006) has identified a large number of programs that have been shown to be effective for working with youth from preschool age through adolescence. For example, the Perry School Pre-School program was shown to reduce delinquency when the participants reached adulthood in contrast with a comparable control group. Programs targeting the youth and his or her family have been shown to be effective, including functional family therapy, multisystemic therapy, the Seattle Social Development Program, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters. If cost benefit issues are of concern, Greenwood (2006) shows that cost-effective programs ultimately reduce crime.
Because of the lack of systematic evaluation the effectiveness of most juvenile justice program is unknown. However, residential programs that include only delinquent youth are seldom effective in reducing recidivism. Other popular programs that have been shown not to be effective include boot camps, substance abuse programs such as DARE, and “scared straight” programs.
Social Justice Issues
Some important social justice issues include overrepresentation of youth of color, prosecution of juveniles as adults, child welfare and juvenile justice, mental health of offenders, reintegration, and human rights.
Overrepresentation of Youth of Color
One of the most critical issues facing the entire justice system in the United States in the disproportionate representation of persons of color in all phases of the system, despite the fact that the United States has ratified the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. The juvenile justice system is not an exception in that youth of color are disproportionately represented in all phases of the justice, child welfare, and public assistance systems, particularly African American youth. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 was amended in 1988 to mandate that states who participate in its programs make “every effort” to achieve proportional representation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system. As of 2003, youth of color comprised 36% of the total juvenile population, but 62% of those in detention and 67% of those in other types of residential facilities. The overrepresentation of youth of color in the early stages of processing has profound effects, because if a youth is detained, there is an increased probability of being found guilty and sentenced to an out-of-home placement. As youth of color move through the justice system there are amplification effects in the subsequent processing that add to the overrepresentation (Kempf-Leonard & Sontheimer 1995).
A variety of factors have been identified as causes of this disproportionality, including:
Crime rates are higher in neighborhood of high levels of deterioration and segregation where youth of color reside and where police are likely to do more surveillance (Sampson, Morenoff, & Raudenbush 2005).
Nunn (2002) argues that the oppression of African American youth (especially males) appears normal because decision makers have been socialized to undervalue the lives of these youth.
Diversion and other alternatives to incarceration are more available in suburban areas with lower proportions of youth of color (Sarri, Shook, & Ward 2001).
The highest rates of incarceration of youth of color are found in public residential facilities reaching 90% in some states (Snyder & Sickmund 2006). Overall, as of 2004, 754 African American, 496 American Indian/Native American, 348 Hispanic, 190 white, and 113 Asian youth per 100,000 were incarcerated.
Prosecuting and Incarcerating Juveniles as Adults
The shift toward the punitive handling of children and youth in the justice systems is best exemplified by the increased transfer of juveniles to adult criminal courts and their subsequent incarceration in adult prisons. During the 1990s, there was a proliferation of transfer legislation: 44 states and the District of Columbia enacted at least one change easing the processing of juveniles as adults (Torbet & Szymanski 1998). By the end of the decade, all 50 states permitted the transfer to adult courts. Although the legislative changes were made to address growing youth violence, by 2000 the majority of youth sentenced to the adult system were there for property, drug, and public order offenses. This legislation also decreased the power of the juvenile court judge and expanded that of the prosecutor. This change represented a significant shift in the role of the judge that had existed since 1900, about when the court was founded.
There are three procedures by which juveniles are transferred for trial as adults: judicial discretion, prosecutorial discretion, and statutory exclusion of certain youth from the juvenile court based on offense and age. Some states do not maintain minimum age limits for trying juveniles as adults while other states set the lower age limit between 10 and 16 years. Some states allow for a case to be designated for trial in the juvenile court with adult court rules. The juvenile may receive a “blended sentence” that permits a youth to remain in the juvenile system, provided he or she commits no subsequent crime.
Accurate information on the numbers of youth processed as adults is not available. Bishop (2000) reviewed a large number of studies and was unable to arrive at a sound estimate. Conservative estimates placed the number processed under the age of 18 at 200,000 per year, but the numbers convicted were far smaller (Sickmund, Snyder, & Poe-Yamagata, 2000). There has been a decline since 2000 because of the dramatic decline in serious and violent crime by juveniles, but the amount of the decline remains unknown. The U.S. Justice Department reported that as of 2004 there were 2,800 youth under 18 in adult prisons; however, this number excludes adults who were sentenced as juveniles, often with long sentences, so nationally the number may well exceed 100,000 individuals (Harrison & Beck 2006). In 1997 there were 7,400 juveniles below 18 in state and federal prisons; so there has been a substantial decline as of 2004.
Juveniles of color and males are the overwhelming majority of those tried as adults (Bortner, Zatz, & Hawkins 2000). Most of the youth in adult prisons will be released in their mid-20, but they will be ill-equipped to meet the demands of society for successful adulthood and parenting because of the stigma of incarceration and because of the lack of education, health care, and social services while incarcerated. Moreover, charges of human rights violations have been and are being made with respect to the conditions of incarceration (Human Rights Watch, 2005). Studies of recidivism indicate that juveniles released from adult facilities have higher rates of recidivism than similar youth released from juvenile facilities (Bishop & Frazier 2000; Fagan, 1996). Thus, the transfer of juvenile s to the adult criminal justice system is counterproductive as a crime control policy.
Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice
The juvenile court serves both abused and neglected children as well as those charged with delinquency, but it was expected that the two areas would be separately addressed since child welfare clients are initially victims of parental abuse or neglect while juvenile delinquents are viewed as primarily responsible for their behavior as perpetrators of crime. This distinction has become increasingly ambiguous as studies have shown the “drift” of child welfare clients to the juvenile justice system (Jonson-Reid & Barth 2000; Kaufman & Widom 1999; Smith & Thornberry 1995). A large study by Kelly (2002) in the Cook County, Illinois, juvenile court, observed that more than a third of maltreated children ended up in the juvenile justice system as delinquents.
Overall, African American and Hispanic youth with experience in foster care have been shown to be at high risk for subsequent transfer to the justice system. Although the numbers of male victims are greater than those of females, most of those who “drift” to the justice system are reported to be female, largely for status offenses and property crime. With a large sample in California, Jonson-Reid and Barth (2000) followed youth from child welfare to entrance into the California Youth Authority. They observed that if youth were transferred to probation, the risk for subsequent transfer to the CYA for a serious felony increased significantly. Having multiple placements was correlated with transfer to the justice system.
A recent study in Michigan of adolescents who aged out of foster care reported several negative outcomes: homelessness, inadequate education, lack of employment, mental health problems, substance abuse, and experience in the justice system (Fowler & Toro 2006). These youth also reported being physically and sexually abused. To delineate the process by which child welfare youth “drift” to the justice system, youth frequently run away from placements, more often from congregate care than individual foster care or kin care. Some of these youth may engage in delinquent behavior as they attempt to survive “on the street.” When they are apprehended by police, they may be taken to a detention facility pending a hearing by the court. Depending upon the outcome of that placement a juvenile may then be moved to juvenile justice system status, and the child welfare system may cease involvement with the case. Because a youth may be an older adolescent at this point, there is a tendency to view them more as a delinquent than a victim of abuse or neglect.
Mental Health and Juvenile Competency
The collapse of the mental health system serving children and youth in the l990s resulted in a gradual movement of mentally ill juveniles into the justice system. The inappropriateness of these placements was exacerbated by the lack of adequate legislation in many states for the assessment of competency for trial as a delinquent or as an adult. Prior to the 1990s, the issues of juvenile competence were seldom raised, but findings from research on brain development and developmental maturity, as well as concerns about due process protection of youth, raised concerns in both the mental health and legal professions (Scott & Grisso 1997). Findings from brain development research are directly relevant to the criminal justice processing of juveniles for both the individual's culpability and ability to participate effectively in his or her defense. Recent neuroimaging studies indicate that the brain, specifically the pre-frontal lobe (PFC), continues to grow and change throughout adolescence and into the 20s. The PFC controls higher-order cognitive processes, which include motivation, inhibition, logical decision making, risk taking, problem solving, planning, emotional regulation, sexual urges, and anticipation of consequences (Spear, 2000). Past and current trauma and stress have detrimental effects on adolescent brain functioning, and delinquent adolescents are significantly more at risk for limited cognitive development (Arnsten & Shansky 2004).
In trying to estimate the number of juveniles with a diagnosable mental disorder, Grisso (2004) reported that findings from several studies indicated that 60–70% of juveniles in correctional facilities have at least one disorder. Relatively few receive professional evaluations or treatment in most settings. Grisso (2004) suggests reasons for attention to these youth: (a) agencies have a legal and moral responsibility to attend to the mental health needs of juveniles; (b) juveniles are entitled to due process and equal protection under the law, including determination of their competency to participate in their own defense; and (c) protection of the public requires that juveniles with mental disorders be treated and managed in ways that maintains protection.
Reintegration and Aftercare
Each year nearly 100,000 juvenile offenders in correctional facilities are returned to their home communities, and an even larger number are released from probation, but reintegration services are poorly developed and reach a small proportion of returning youth (Griffin, 2005). In many states juveniles are released from correctional facilities under state supervised parole, and so there is little adaptation to the circumstances of the youth or the community.
Griffin (2005) describes three court-directed programs for aftercare and reintegration in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Indiana, which offered comprehensive services for education, employment, and treatment as needed along with mentoring and monitoring. Altschuler, Armstrong, & MacKenzie (1999) developed a model for intensive aftercare by institutional and parole staff that is now being tested in several communities. Spencer and Jones-Walker (2004) offer a theory-based reintegration model that focuses on identity formation recognizing that being in a correctional program is a life-changing experience. They present a cognitive behavioral approach that addresses the individual's environment as well as their personal characteristics. Their research and that of Barton (2006) found very low rates of recidivism among youth who completed programs that promoted competency, a positive sense of self, and transition programming with strong social support necessary for the youth to achieve success and stability.
The United States strongly advocates for the extension of human rights enforcement throughout the world, but when it relates directly to the United States, there is resistance not only to the adoption but also to enforcement of those rights by United Nations agencies. Nowhere are the principles of human rights more at risk than in the U.S. processing of juveniles in the justice system. The International Convention on the Rights of the Child has not been ratified and several of its provisions were ignored. The United States has signed and ratified four other conventions, which are often negated by our practices of processing juveniles as adults, in the conditions of confinement in many facilities, in the incarceration of juveniles when community services would be more effective, and in the overrepresentation of youth of color in all levels of the juvenile justice system. The four other conventions include the following: Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racism, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture, and the Convention on Human Rights. The relevance and importance of international law and customs was acknowledged by Justice Arthur Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court in his decision in the Roper v. Simmons case 543 U.S., in which the Court acknowledged that the juvenile death penalty was unconstitutional. In 2005 writing for the majority Justice Kennedy stated that international law provided guidance for the Supreme Court because execution of juveniles was prohibited in many Western countries many years prior to 2005.
Human rights conventions set limits on state punishment and control, specify what is required in legal representation of children in the justice systems, reject the transferring children to the adult justice system, mandate states to make “every effort” to achieve proportional representation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system, and specify appropriate conditions of confinement (Sarri & Shook 2005). Attention to international law and custom is increasingly recognized in the United States as are the more humane policies and practices in other countries (Amnesty International, 1998). Human rights frameworks provide powerful tools for effecting the processing of juveniles in the United States. It is probable that in the near future we will see a challenge to the “life without parole” sentences of juveniles, using international law as a conceptual framework for the complaint.
Future Trends and Directions
Greater attention to community-based intervention is essential if juvenile justice in the United States is to increase in effectiveness (Tyler, Zeidenberg, & Lotke 2006). The efforts of the founders of the juvenile court along with those who advocated for juvenile rights in the 1960s and 1970s need reexamination, including the goals of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which strongly asserted that juveniles were to be primarily treated in the community. Moreover, that Act has emphasized priorities to reduce overrepresentation of youth of color, achieve gender equity, and increase community-based intervention. Edelman's presentation of the four circles for intervention in a comprehensive approach to youth policy comes the closest to recognition of the earlier priorities—reduction of poverty, universalistic approaches to youth development, education and after-school programming, and parsimony in punitive intervention (Edelman, 2002). He argues for approaches that “do no harm” as a minimum requirement.
Public opinion surveys report that a majority of the public (91%) believe that rehabilitative services and treatment for incarcerated youth can help prevent future crimes (Krisberg & Marchionna 2007). The public also think that spending on rehabilitative services will save tax dollars in the long run. These attitudes suggest that in the future we may see a return to the goals of the original juvenile court, as Mears, Hay, Gertz, and Mancini (2007) suggest. The character of the justice system is shaped by the attitudes and behavior of local communities. The newly developing programs of restorative justice, community service, and conflict resolution may provide the mechanisms for restoring community values regarding children and youth.
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