Choosing the Future for American Juvenile Justice

Choosing the Future for American Juvenile Justice

Choosing the Future for American Juvenile Justice

Choosing the Future for American Juvenile Justice


This is a hopeful but complicated era for those with ambitions to reform the juvenile courts and youth-serving public institutions in the United States. As advocates plea for major reforms, many fear the public backlash in making dramatic changes. Choosing the Future for American Juvenile Justice provides a look at the recent trends in juvenile justice as well as suggestions for reforms and policy changes in the future. Should youth be treated as adults when they break the law? How can youth be deterred from crime? What factors should be considered in how youth are punished? What role should the police have in schools?

This essential volume, edited by two of the leading scholars on juvenile justice, and with contributors who are among the key experts on each issue, the volume focuses on the most pressing issues of the day: the impact of neuroscience on our understanding of brain development and subsequent sentencing, the relationship of schools and the police, the issue of the school-to-prison pipeline, the impact of immigration, the privacy of juvenile records, and the need for national policies--including registration requirements--for juvenile sex offenders. Choosing the Future for American Juvenile Justice is not only a timely collection, based on the most current research, but also a forward-thinking volume that anticipates the needs for substantive and future changes in juvenile justice.


Franklin E. Zimring and David S. Tanenhaus

The juvenile court and the system of juvenile justice that it produced was invented in Illinois in 1899 and is now 115 years old. While it is the youngest of the major institutions of Anglo-American law, it has also become the most popular. There are juvenile courts in all 50 American states and in almost all the nations of the modern world.

But while the mission of the court is universally popular, the moving parts of juvenile justice in the United States have been changing almost from the beginning. the basic principles of the court in 2014 still reflect the intentions of its founders, but the priorities and power relations in juvenile justice have changed importantly in the past half-century.

Enduring Principles

The first enduring principle of the juvenile court was the radical idea that the law should treat children differently from adults. This radical idea is also an old one, predating the American Revolution. the political philosopher John Locke argued that children’s lack of reasoning capacity, which disqualified them from participating in government, also made them less culpable for their criminal acts. By the turn of the twentieth century, child advocates embedded the principle that children are different from adults—and thus require individualized handling of their cases—into the foundation of the world’s first juvenile courts. That bedrock assumption is still alive and well in 2014.

A second principle is closely and inextricably related to the first. Once juvenile courts were established, children’s advocates argued that . . .

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