Five Distinct Stages of Juvenile Justice in the United States

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Juvenile justice is a part of the criminal law put in place only for younger people who are not old enough yet to be held accountable for their crimes. In most cases this apply to youthful offenders usually under the age 18 who are accused of committing a delinquent or criminal activities. So, their case will typically go through the juvenile justice system. The juvenile justice system is the initial system used in the United States to handle youths who are convicted for engaging in criminal acts. The juvenile justice system and adult criminal law system are comparable in several ways. For instance, both of these system processes include arrest, detainment, hearings, depositions, and reentry. However, the difference is the juvenile justice system operates with the assumption that the younger people are essentially different from the adults in levels of rehabilitation and responsibility. Throughout, history the American justice system has changed numerous times to properly serve youthful offenders. According, to Hess & Wright (2012), Juvenile justice in the United States is generally recognized as having progressed through five distinct stages.

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During the Puritan Period (1646-1824), laws from England were brought over and it was believed that children sins were inherent. So, juveniles would be strictly punished when it was necessary and when children misbehave during this period their families were responsible and in control of their punishments. However, when the parents failed to punish their children community punishments and control was put forward by church and other social institutions to handle juvenile offenders. Trials and punishment were based on age, and anyone older than 7 was subject to the courts (Hess & Wright, 2012, p. 34). Children 7 years of age and younger would not be held responsible for criminal acts, but once a child reached the age 8 it was believed that they were capable of telling the difference between good and evil therefore, they could be found guilty of their crimes. Rebelliousness and disobedience were two offenses that juvenile offenders age 7 and older could receive punishments for during this period.

The Refuge Period (1824-1899), during this period poverty was a crime, so children were removed from those environments to eliminate it and improve juveniles’ behaviors. That being said, separate institutions like reform schools, houses of refuge, and foster homes were created for youths. However, delinquents, neglected, and foster children were still housed together in these institutions for juveniles. It was believed by child savers that the unhealthy environment a child was in was the reason they were bad, so children received treatment by being placed in houses of refuge or reform schools. Reformers felt that when a child was put in the justice system the main focus should be on what and how a child became what they are and how society could help them, instead of focusing solely on their punishments. Other belief was youth should be treated/rehabilitated not punished and they should not be held responsible as an adult. Numerous of important events transpired during this period that transformed juvenile justice. In 1870, the first use of separate trials for juveniles was established and in 1880 the first probation system applicable to juveniles initiated according to (Hess & Wright, 2012).

The third stage was the Juvenile Court Period (1899-1960) it came about during the Progressive Era or Age of Reform and it was believed by reformers that children were a product of their environments so, it was the parents’ duty to raise obedient and hardworking children. The first juvenile court was established in 1899 and this was how children were handled primarily handled. The 1899 Juvenile Court Act created public policy based on medical model which focused on individual diagnosis and treatment. This act also included separation of children from adults in institutions and use of probation increased for better rehabilitation. Criminal cases involving Youth age 16 and under were removed from criminal jurisdiction and not held accountable for their offenses. Chicago Boy’s Court and Youth Counsel Bureau was the start of diversion. four religion-based community service agencies were used to treat the youth and if supervision successful and the courts were satisfied no record made of the incident.

The Juvenile Rights Period (1960“1980) was the fourth stage, during this period more children were living in single-parent households and it seemed to have an and effect on delinquency. The juvenile court system was reconsidered and included the Four D’s of juvenile justice, due process, deinstitutionalization, decriminalization and diversion. Uniform Juvenile Court Act of 1968 reform juvenile justice nationwide, this act also included provisions that affected law enforcement and corrections. Without youth being labeled as a criminal care, protection and development of youths by treatment programs, training and rehabilitation. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Act was created in 1974. (JJDP) two goals was deinstitutionalization of status offenders and separation/removal of juveniles from adult facilities this act also increased states funding for juveniles reducing institutionalization.

Crime Control Period (1980-Present) the medical model shifted to the justice model and during this period best interests of society overrode best interests of youthful offenders. Two additional D’s were added to the juvenile justice system, deterrence and desert. Tougher policies were put in place for juvenile offenders and laws were passed to prevent juvenile crimes. Courts are now focused on what is right according to the law.

In my option, the crime control period was the most influential to the evolution of the juvenile justice system, the main reason I say this is because now it isn’t all about what’s best for the youth but what best for society as a whole is now considered. Many centuries ago it was all about treatment and rehabilitation although that is still the case the youth can now be punished for their criminal acts, so they can know that there are consequences for their behavior. Now that there are tougher policies for juveniles and laws have been passed to suppress the crimes committed by juveniles I thin the crime control period is what’s best to control our juveniles.

All in all, throughout history juvenile justice many measures have been taken in order to help the juveniles. Four stages ended because it was believed that something better was able to properly serve the juveniles. Out of the five stages of the juvenile justice history the crime control period seems to be the best one. However, the environment a child is in does have a huge effect on the child’s behavior, so it is somewhat up to our youths to make good decisions and do what’s right. According, to Rizer (2017), youth who are incarcerated or have been incarcerated are the most disconnected from opportunities, relationships, and experiences that are critical to helping them rebuild their lives, putting them at a huge disadvantage (para. 4).

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Five Distinct Stages of Juvenile Justice in the United States. (2019, Jul 10). Retrieved January 30, 2023 , from

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