An Essay on the Justice System for Juvenile Offenders

An Essay on the Justice System for Juvenile Offenders

An Essay on the Juvenile Justice System

The juvenile justice system is a legal framework formulated to deal with criminal offences that have been committed by minors between the ages of ten and eighteen. The juvenile crimes consist of felony’s that could be committed by an adult but done by an underage. Nonetheless, there are also status crimes that could only be done by a juvenile such as truancy and prohibited alcohol consumption (Young, Greer & Church, 2017). The juvenile justice system protects young people from being prosecuted as adults. The objective is to facilitate early intervention in poor behavior and protect them from engaging in crimes as adults.

This system differs from the adult system since it aims at protecting the interests and rights of the minor. Once a minor has joined the juvenile justice system, the focus is no longer on the crime but on addressing the underlying issues. The judge assigned to the case is required to act in the best interest of the juvenile. Therefore procedural aspects such the right to an attorney and the right to understand the charges were deemed unnecessary. According to Woods & Osho (2013), the court proceedings were closed to the public, and the records were to concealed to ensure that it will not interfere with the child’s rehabilitation process. Thus the juvenile justice system aims to offer correctional services rather than punish them for their wrongdoings.

History of the Juvenile Justice System

In the 17th and 18th centuries, children and adults were considered as equals with minimal legal differences. The children were viewed as productive members of the society, and in court, they could be charged with a death penalty based on the committed crime. During the 19th century, industrialization re-instated the institution of childhood, which was excluded from adulthood. The Illinois Juvenile Court Act of 1899 was the first juvenile court in America. This act provided special procedures and rules that focused on dealing with minors under sixteen years. It was a model that recognized the Nation’s duty towards children in taking up the responsibilities of the parents in guiding them.

The Illinois Juvenile Court act believed that the system was tasked with the responsibility of helping and rehabilitating the juveniles. On the contrary, the system sometimes failed to achieve this mandate adequately. This is because they denied the minors the same privileges accorded to the adults (Woods & Osho, 2013). Nevertheless, in 1966, the Supreme Court focused on changing the operations of the juvenile justice system. Notably, the main concern during the system overhaul was whether the teenagers should be given the same rights as the adults under the Constitution. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 created the provisions for several entities that would address issues related to juveniles.

Evolution of the Juvenile Justice System

Over the years, more states have incorporated the concept of Juvenile courts across the country. Presently, the structure of the system remains the same; nevertheless, the interpretations of the rights have evolved. The regulatory bodies have invented several structures to accommodate the ideals of the juvenile system in the current policies and guidelines. In 1963, the Supreme Court stated that every citizen, including the minors, have the right to an attorney during the proceedings through the Gideon v. Wainwright case (Alba, 2010). This case presented the need to have an attorney who would answer the minor’s questions and address their legal rights in a court of law. Further based on the nature of the offence and the juvenile’s age, they are liable for a bind-over. This is a proceeding that determines if the child can be tried as an adult in court.

On the other hand, the Kent v. United States case was ruled by the Supreme Court in 1966. The minor would be granted a hearing where the attorney is given access to the records. Further, the court provides a written statement on the reasons for the bind-over. Further, the juvenile constitutional rights were affirmed in the In re Gault case in 1967 (Williams, 2017). The court ruled that in instances that could lead to a jail term; they were provided with the same trial rights as an adult. In the United States, the concern between social control and welfare has been a point of contention. The Juvenile justice system is conflicted between serving the child’s best interests or protecting society and punishing them for their crimes.

Following this concern, the state legal reforms that handle criminal offences have focused on accountability and public safety. According to Young et al. (2017), this is a shift from the traditional objective to rehabilitate them rather than punishments for the offence. In this case, approximately seventeen states have adopted this policy by redefining the goal of juvenile courts. The focus is on accountability, public safety and penalties. This is a balanced approach to law enforcement and facilitating the safety of the community.

The United States has 675 youth courts. The policies and guidelines that govern the juvenile system differ from one state to the other. However, the States that receive funding from the Federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act are governed by distinct laws. The Federal government has jurisdiction over juveniles who commit crimes in places such as in national parks. Hence, the laws and requirements are changing based on the rules that govern the area the crime is committed.

In conclusion, unlike adults whose records will affect them, juvenile records can be sealed once they are eighteen years. In this regard, eliminating a criminal record requires that the minor files a formal request through an appeal to the juvenile court clerk. The juvenile justice system is evolving with the primary objective of addressing crime rates among teenagers while protecting the interests of the community. 


Alba, S. D. M. (2010). Searching for the Civil Gideon: Procedural Due Process and the Juvenile Right to Counsel in Termination Proceedings. U. Pa. J. Const. L., 13, 1079.

Williams, L. M. (2017). In re Gault. The Encyclopedia of Juvenile Delinquency and Justice, 1-4.

Woods, D. A., & Osho, G. S. (2013). Is the United States Juvenile Justice System Working: An Empirical Investigation from the Life Course Approach. Journal of Public Administration and Governance, 142.

Young, S., Greer, B., & Church, R. (2017). Juvenile delinquency, welfare, justice and therapeutic interventions: a global perspective. BJPsych bulletin, 41(1), 21-29.

Published on: 28 Aug 2020

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