American Juvenile Justice

American Juvenile Justice

American Juvenile Justice

American Juvenile Justice

Excerpt

The juvenile court of the twenty-first century displays a puzzling contrast between the wide popularity of its institutions and the lack of broadly accepted theoretical justifications for its separate functions. Invented in 1899 in Illinois, this American idea has achieved a worldwide popularity larger than any other Anglo-American innovation. There are juvenile courts throughout the world, and the American model is the basic structure emulated in a vast number of legal systems in both the developed and developing world.

But this most successful of American legal innovations has been without a formal jurisprudence since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in In re Gault in 1967. The original theory of governmental beneficence and childhood dependence that Gault rejected almost four decades ago has not been replaced with any substantial framework of basic legal principles. For my entire professional life, the delinquency jurisdiction of juvenile justice has been a practice in search of a theory, an important challenge to theorists and practitioners to provide a sound legal theory for juvenile courts, and to apply such a theory consistently in confronting the large variety of policy problems that crop up in modern practice. What are the basic reasons for a separate court for young offenders? How should these principles produce policy on teenage pregnancy? On transfer to criminal courts? On gun access for minors? On punishment of 16-year-olds who kill?

For some time now, I have been writing a book on the installment plan on the relations between principle and practice in American juvenile justice. A cluster of essays on individual topics pursued over the last decade turns out also to be a larger project, a book about the theoretical foundations of a separate legal system for juvenile offenders. Here is that book!

This book is about four closely connected topics. The first is the emergence of adolescence as a distinctive legal and social phenomenon in the United States. Everything we debate about juvenile justice is a consequence of the special problems and ambitions of legal policy toward adolescent development. The first section of this book . . .

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