Before the twentieth century, juveniles were essentially chattel, or property, in the eyes of society and the courts around the world (Caeti, Fritsch & Taylor, 2008, Ch 2). Juveniles weren’t thought of as citizens in the society. They were bought, sold and treated like property. The owner would be the person with complete control of the child. In today’s society, this practice is dreadful but back then it was a common practice. However, Juveniles weren’t given a separate status when it came to criminal courts. A juvenile was treated the same as an adult in the criminal justice system and faced the same consequences, even death. They were also sent to adult prisons once they were convicted of a crime.
Under English Common Law, a juvenile accused of a crime was usually treated no differently than an adult offender as well. Juveniles could be given a variety of corporal punishments, banishments, and even the death penalty for their crimes. In terms of criminal responsibility, and child over the age of seven was accountable for any criminal acts that child committed (Caeti, Fritsch & Taylor, 2008, Ch 2). This is a very early age to be held accountable for an offense. This age rank came about in early Roman laws; it was adopted by the English common law, and eventually brought into the American system of justice.
A system of orphanages, workhouses, training schools, and apprenticeships developed in England in the 1600s to deal with unwanted, abandoned, and orphaned children (Simonsen, Vito & Taylor, 2004, Ch. 1). Children then were brought into the adult world through involuntary servitude and apprenticeships. Involuntary servitude is the practice of selling children into service to a business person or wealthy person. In exchange for the money, parents would essentially give up all rights to their children ("Involuntary Servitude,” 2007, Para 1). The main reason or focuses of these programs were to train juveniles in trades so that they could contribute to the society. Really, the only similarity between the juvenile justice system of English common law and the one in operation today in the United States is that there were and still are a variety of public and private institutions, organizations, religious groups, and others who deal with wayward and delinquent children (Caeti, Fritsch & Taylor, 2008, Ch2).
Juvenile justice in Colonial America kind of viewed children the same as England. They believed that the family was the primary caregiver. They also believed that the parents were the primary supervisors of the children as well. Because of this, the parents were able to sell their children into slavery like those parents in the English common law. The move away from viewing children as chattel to viewing them as those in need of protection had its origins in Europe’s Renaissance period (14th through 17th centuries) amidst a variety of educational and religious reforms and as a result of this, the criminal justice system and other social institutions began to view children as not being fully developed or capable of exercising free will (Caeti, Fritsch & Taylor, 2008, Ch2)....