The Main Roles and Responsibilities of the Juvenile Justice System

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Originally, the juvenile court was thought of as a social service organization that dealt with protecting and solving the problems of children in trouble. The primary role of the juvenile court was not to establish guilt, but rather to rehabilitate youthful offenders by eliminating the problem causing the juvenile to engage in delinquent behavior. Emphasis was placed on rehabilitation, attention, and education, and these beliefs became the basis of what is known as the juvenile justice system. The juvenile justice system aims to keep citizens safe, rehabilitate delinquent youth, increase the competency of the juvenile offender, and mold them into law-abiding, tax-paying citizens.

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Meeting these responsibilities has been the goal of the system since it was first implemented.

However, the juvenile justice system had a dramatic change in the early 1990s. Serious juvenile crimes were on the rise at an alarming rate. Youth arrests under the age of 18 for murder and negligent homicide increased 92.7% (Bureau of Justice Statistics), from 1279 to 2465; robberies increased 12.1%, from 29892 to 33,510; aggravated assault increased by 71.7%, from 27,376 to 47,013. This led to a push for transforming the juvenile court to a criminal court. The past two decades have reversed the focus from rehabilitating juveniles to punishing juvenile delinquents. The juvenile justice system applies criminal law to persons not old enough to be held responsible for criminal acts. The age for criminal culpability is usually 18. The goal of the juvenile justice system is still to rehabilitate, but if juveniles commit serious enough crimes, they can be transferred into adult court if the juvenile court waives or relinquishes jurisdiction.

The characteristics of the modern juvenile court have evolved over many decades. Legal reforms such as rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court (Kent v. United States 1966), and acts of Congress (the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974), and many other changes were inconsistently administered across the country. Beginning in the late 1960s through the mid-1980s, rulings of the Supreme Court defined for juveniles many of the same due process protections that adults had, including provisions for notice of the charges, cross-examination of witnesses, counsel, and the need to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The Supreme Court also established that juveniles may be subject to penalties and other punishments associated with the adult system (e.g., preventive “pretrial detention, exposure to the death penalty) in certain cases. There was and still remains a significant difference in juvenile justice practices state by state. The reforms that have been introduced and the growing trend towards criminalizing juvenile offenders show the tension that exists in the debate, “incarcerate or rehabilitate”.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 helped establish some consistency throughout the country in dealing with juveniles in the justice system. This act highlighted the need for federally assisted juvenile justice programs, training for professionals who deal with juveniles and delinquents, and the development and encouragement of implementing national standards for the administration of juvenile justice. The act also assisted state and local governments in improving the administration of justice and services for juveniles who enter the system, and helped states and local communities prevent youth from entering the justice system to begin with.

The future of the juvenile justice system depends on several variables. The first and most important is a quick response to all juveniles, not just those that are incarcerated. We must identify and educate high-risk juveniles. Equally as important, we need to ensure that punishments are fair and representative of the crime committed by the juvenile offender. The courts must be more rigorous in holding parents accountable for their children’s actions. A parent, having firsthand knowledge of their child, should be able to identify a problem earlier than someone unfamiliar with the child’s behavior or certain indicative signs. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act of 1974 was revised in 2002 – now the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Act of 2002. It addresses several issues and provides solutions to correct identified problems in the juvenile justice system. The Act meets the needs of society as well as the juvenile by introducing prevention programs that engage with juveniles and their families. Furthermore, it deals with programs that hold the juvenile accountable for their actions, fostering competency and encouraging them to become responsible, productive members of the community. Programs that aid juveniles and their families in taking responsibility offer a significant chance to help these young offenders. Such initiatives will significantly influence the future of the juvenile justice system in the United States.

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The Main Roles and Responsibilities of the Juvenile Justice System. (2022, Nov 16). Retrieved from