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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, crimes committed by children and adolescents are treated differently than if an adult committed the same crime.
The first juvenile court was established in 1899 in Chicago as a byproduct of the Progressive Era. 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.
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.
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.
The juvenile prison system works under the same philosophy as the rest of the justice system, focusing more on rewarding good behavior, rather than punishing bad. 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.