A New Juvenile Justice System: Total Reform for a Broken System

A New Juvenile Justice System: Total Reform for a Broken System

A New Juvenile Justice System: Total Reform for a Broken System

A New Juvenile Justice System: Total Reform for a Broken System


A New Juvenile Justice System aims at nothing less than a complete reform of the existing system: not minor change or even significant overhaul, but the replacement of the existing system with a different vision. The authors in this volume--academics, activists, researchers, and those who serve in the existing system--all respond in this collection to the question of what the system should be. Uniformly, they agree that an ideal system should be centered around the principle of child well-being and the goal of helping kids to achieve productive lives as citizens and members of their communities.

Rather than the existing system, with its punitive, destructive, undermining effect and uneven application by race and gender, these authors envision a system responsive to the needs of youth as well as to the community's legitimate need for public safety. How, they ask, can the ideals of equality, freedom, liberty, and self-determination transform the system? How can we improve the odds that children who have been labeled as "delinquent" can make successful transitions to adulthood? And how can we create a system that relies on proven, family-focused interventions and creates opportunities for positive youth development? Drawing upon interdisciplinary work as well as on-the-ground programs and experience, the authors sketch out the broad parameters of such a system.

Providing the principles, goals, and concrete means to achieve them, this volume imagines using our resources wisely and well to invest in all children and their potential to contribute and thrive in our society.


Charles J. Ogletree, Jr.

Professor Nancy E. Dowd has compiled a wonderful and important book on reforming the juvenile justice system. Professor Dowd is no stranger to this area. in her scholarship, teaching, and speeches she has given around the country, she has discussed the rights of juveniles in the justice system. This book offers a new and compelling perspective on juvenile justice reform and why we should support the rights of children.

As we think about how slowly we have revised the system for children, it is important to look back at the history of the treatment of juveniles in the juvenile justice system. in the 1960s the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of In re Gault, made clear that juveniles should be treated differently but that this separate system required careful scrutiny. in the opinion written by Justice Fortas, the Court cautioned,

The highest motives and most enlightened impulses led to a peculiar
system for juveniles, unknown to our law in any comparable context.
The constitutional and theoretical basis for this peculiar system is—to
say the least—debatable. and in practice … the results have not been
entirely satisfactory. Juvenile court history has again demonstrated that
unbridled discretion, however benevolently motivated, is frequently a
poor substitute for principle and procedure. in 1937, Dean Pound wrote:
“The powers of the Star Chamber were a trifle in comparison with those
of our juvenile court. …” the absence of substantive standards has not
necessarily meant that children receive careful, compassionate, indi
vidualized treatment. the absence of procedural rules based on consti
tutional principle has not always produced fair, efficient, and effective
procedures. Departures from established principles of due process have
frequently resulted not in enlightened procedure, but in arbitrariness.

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