Jodia M Murphy
CJ150 Juvenile Delinquency
Professor Thomas Woods
July 31, 2012
This paper takes a brief look at the history and evolution of the juvenile justice system in the United States. In recent years there has been an increase of juvenile cases being transferred into the adult court system. This paper will also look at that process and the consequences of that trend. History and Evolution
In the early nineteenth century juveniles were treated the same as adults when it came to the legal system. We did not have separate courts or jails for juveniles and they would often receive the same punishments as adults that had committed crimes. “At the beginning of the nineteenth century, delinquent, neglected, and runaway children in the United States were treated in the same way as adult criminal offenders” (Seigel & Welsh, 2011). Three key things that helped to develop a separate system for juveniles were the child-saving movement, the concept of parens patria and the creation of institutions created specifically for the care of juveniles.
The ‘child-savers’ movement began in New York in the early 1800’s. These early groups were concerned mainly with the moral education of children. They felt that private groups and families were not doing enough to properly educate young people and wanted more control to be given to the government. These groups were formed by prominent members of the community who could influence law makers. “Child-saving organizations influenced state legislatures to enact laws giving courts the power to commit children who were runaways or criminal offenders to specialized institutions” (Seigel & Welsh, 2011). From these groups the concept of parens patriae was made popular.
Parens patriae is Latin for parent of the country, and basically gives the state or government the power to take care of those that cannot take care of themselves. As with most of the American justice system, the concept of parens patriae has its roots in English common law, when the King was ‘father of the country’. The King ruled and made decisions for the well-being of all his subjects. “In the United States, the parens patriae doctrine has had its greatest application in the treatment of children, mentally ill persons, and other individuals who are legally incompetent to manage their affairs” (Net Industries, 2012).
The child savers groups that formed in New York also were responsible for the creation of the first institutions to care specifically for juveniles. “The most prominent of the care facilities developed by child savers was the House of Refuge, which opened in New York in 1825” (Seigel & Welsh, 2011). These institutions were created on the premise that they protect at risk youth and teach them in an environment much like that of the family home (Seigel & Welsh, 2011). What they actually ended up with were institutions with harsh rules and where children were made to work long hours. In 1899 the passage of the Illinois Juvenile Court Act would be a turning point in juvenile justice.
The Illinois Juvenile Court Act set up a separate system for juvenile offenders; they were not longer treated as adults and given adult treatment for crimes or minor offenses. Illinois paved the way for the modern juvenile justice system we have today and by 1917 almost every state had set up a separate system for juveniles. The Act set out to see that juveniles were no longer treated like adults and to separate juvenile delinquents from children that were abused and neglected.
While the separate juvenile justice system was created to protect the interest of juveniles and take the focus from punishment to rehabilitation, today there seems to be a shift back towards a more punishment focused system. Juveniles Transferred to the Adult System
Almost every State has laws covering the transfer of juvenile cases to the adult system...