American juvenile justice system

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The American Juvenile Justice System is made up of a network of juvenile courts across the country. A juvenile court (or young offender's court) is a court that has special authority to try and pass judgments for crimes committed by children or adolescents who have not yet attained the age of majority. In judicial systems today, children and adolescents who commit a crime are treated differently from legal adults who have committed the same crime.


Head and shoulders of a serious and dignified woman in her forties, with dark hair up and in a dress with high lace collar and a cameo at her throat, Edwardian style
Chicago juvenile justice reformer Mary Bartelme has been described as the single most important person in the first 25 years of the Cook County Juvenile Court, the first juvenile court established in the United States.[1]

The first juvenile court was established in 1899 in Chicago as a byproduct of the Progressive Era.[2] At the time, anyone under the age of seventeen who committed a crime was placed in the same judicial system as adults. As social views began to change, many started to see juvenile offenders as youths who had simply lost their way, rather than hardened criminals. It was believed that with proper instruction, and disciplinary guidelines instituted, a youth could be rehabilitated and again become a productive member of society.

Juvenile Judicial System Today[edit]

The focus of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate juveniles, rather than to imprison and punish them. Many states, such as Massachusetts, have special courts set aside to try and convict juveniles. Others, such as Colorado, have courts that deal with juvenile cases in addition to regular ones. On the other hand, there are cases of stricter sentencing for minors, e.g. Amy's Law, which increased the maximum sentence for a young child convicted of murder in Georgia from two years to the variable duration between the time of conviction and age 21.[3]


In Massachusetts, juveniles, upon arraignment, enter a plea of "delinquent" or "not delinquent", rather than "guilty" or "not guilty." The purpose of this is to establish that they are different from a regular criminal. Juvenile court cases are usually decided upon by a judge, rather than by a jury.


The Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility has a program called Project HEART, which gives inmates the chance to take care of and train dogs that have been abandoned. If the youth proves that he/she can adequately take care of it, the animal may be set up for adoption through the local animal shelter.

Juvenile Prison System[edit]

Cook County, Illinois, juvenile detention facility and court

Delinquents being held in these facilities are given the opportunity, and/or ordered by the court, to attend school and receive their high school diplomas, GED, or even college credits. Many detention centers offer the inmates a chance to have jobs working around the prison, such as being a teacher’s assistant, gardener, or kitchen staff member.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Burton K (2002). Mother knows best: Mary Margaret Bartelme and the Chicago juvenile reform movement (PDF). Retrieved 2009-04-11. 
  2. ^ McCord 2001, p. 157.
  3. ^ Hagues, R.; James, T.; McWilliams, A.; Moore, M.; Smalls, R.; Watkins, M.; Woolfork, N. (January 30, 2009). "Juvenile Code Revisions Information Gathering Project" (PDF). Prepared by Governmental Services and Research Division: Carl Vison Institute of Government, University of Georgia. p. 2. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 

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