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Juvenile Offenders and Victims

2014 National Report

Juvenile Justice System Structure & Process

The first juvenile court in the United States was established in Chicago in 1899, more than 100 years ago. In the long history of law and justice, juvenile justice is a relatively new development. The juvenile justice system has changed drastically since the late 1960s, due to Supreme Court decisions, federal legislation, and changes in state statutes.

Perceptions of a juvenile crime epidemic in the early 1990s, brought about by a number of reasons, including media scrutiny, focused the public's attention on the juvenile justice system's ability to effectively control violent juvenile offenders. As a reaction, states adopted numerous legislative changes in an effort to crack down on juvenile crime. In fact, through the mid-1990s, nearly every state broadened the scope of their transfer laws, exposing more youth to criminal court prosecution. Although the juvenile and criminal justice systems have grown similar in recent years, the juvenile justice system remains unique, guided by its own philosophy-with an emphasis on individualized justice and serving the best interests of the child-and legislation, and implemented by its own set of agencies.

This chapter describes the structure and process of the juvenile justice system, focusing on delinquency and status offense matters. (Chapter 2 discusses the handling of child maltreatment matters.) Parts of this chapter provide an overview of the history of juvenile justice in the United States, lay out the significant Supreme Court decisions that have shaped and affected the juvenile justice system, and describe standardized case processing in the juvenile justice system. Also summarized in this chapter are changes that states have made with regard to the juvenile justice system's jurisdictional authority, sentencing, corrections, programming, confidentiality of records and court hearings, and victim involvement in court hearings. Much of this information was drawn from National Center for Juvenile Justice analyses of juvenile codes in each state. (Note: For ease of discussion, the District of Columbia is often referred to as a state.)

This chapter also includes information on juveniles processed in the federal justice system, as well as a discussion on measuring recidivism in the justice system.


Chapter 4: Juvenile Justice System Structure & Process

Developed and maintained by the National Center for Juvenile Justice, with funding from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

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