Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Achieving Juvenile Justice Reforms through Decision.Making Structures: The Case of Georgia

Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Achieving Juvenile Justice Reforms through Decision.Making Structures: The Case of Georgia

Article excerpt


The U.S. juvenile court and justice system has stood for reform and system improvement from its start. First formalized in Illinois in 1899, juvenile court evolved from a variety of systems used to handle juvenile justice and child welfare matters during the nineteenth century and earlier (Fox, 1996). During the same period, social norms in the United States were shifting, driven by large waves of immigration and urbanization. Social activists, as well as lawmakers and other officials, began to theorize that criminality was a result of the social environment and often a survival mechanism. They suggested that if youth were taught other skills in prison, they would be more likely to make meaningful contributions to society upon their release. This concept was then applied at the system level, leading to the inception of the juvenile court. Early juvenile courts were based on the idea that treating young people involved in criminal activity as if they were adults was not the best way to respond. Rather than focus on the punitive aspects of intervention, the concept of juvenile court took into consideration the legal doctrine of parens patriae-that these youth were actually in need of protection and an opportunity to develop more socially productive life skills. The juvenile court was not established to hold children accountable, but rather to consider the best interests of children and to rehabilitate them.

Much of the initial efforts of the juvenile court went toward offering these rehabilitative treatments in noninstitutional settings. Because the model was one of positive intervention rather than punitive accountability, the deprivation of individual liberty was not the focus. As Charles L. Chute, the first president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (then named the National Probation Association), stated in 1933, "Probation care under an officer of the requisite ability, personality and character, is far safer and more effective than institutionalization, and incidentally it costs the state less than one-tenth as much per child. . . . Too often we have sent up, as these children call it, neglected, problem children, and they have come out real delinquents" (Chute, 1933, p. 750). Nearly a century ago, Chute was suggesting that community-based interventions were more effective, less costly, and more likely to lead to safer communities.

In 1846, Horace Mann made much the same point: "The courts and the ministers of justice sit by until the petty delinquencies of youth glare out in the enormities of adult crime" (Mann, 1846, p. 143). Mann further declared, "[A]re there not moral means for the renovation of mankind? Are there not resources whose vastness and richness have not yet been explored?" (p. 142). Again, the argument was that there is an opportunity for positive interventions that will lead to more successful young people and safer communities.

Since the time of Horace Mann-for the past 170 years-the United States has been challenged to respond to this question: How can we as a nation best take advantage of this opportunity to use our resources to keep our communities safer through positive interventions? During that time, juvenile justice in the United States has variously shifted primacy among three different and simultaneous goals: (a) punitive accountability, (b) positive rehabilitation, and (c) sustainable community safety. Much of the struggle has been to find a path to concurrently maximize all three goals. As a National Research Council (2013) report concluded, numerous states and local jurisdictions have made substantial progress on the task. The report suggests that jurisdictions can maximize both positive rehabilitation and community safety if they are willing to mostly let go of punitive accountability.

Although activists in past centuries were positive that there were opportunities for effective treatment, rehabilitation, and positive intervention, the question of "what works" has been prominent in recent decades. …

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