Models for Change: Systems Reform in Juvenile Justice

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Before there was an actual Juvenile Justice system, an English lawyer by the name of William Blackstone published Commentaries on the Laws of England, in which he identifies people who were incapable of committing crimes. One of the groups were identified as infants or those too young to fully understand their actions. By the ideals of Blackstone, children under the age of seven could not be guilty of a felony – a serious crime such as kidnapping or murder.

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However, children over the age of fourteen were able to be charged and punished as adults for the crimes they were found guilty of. This ideal left a grey area, between the ages of seven and fourteen, in a child was presumed to be incapable, yet if it appeared the child understood the difference between right and wrong they could be convicted and suffer the consequences of the crime, including death for capital crimes. (“The History of JUVENILE JUSTICE PART 1| ABA Division for Public Education”)

Changes in the Juvenile Justice System began in the nineteenth century when social reformers began to create special facilities for troubled juveniles. In large cities, such as New York, and Chicago, it seemed especially important to protect and separate the youth from adult offenders. Social reformers also focused on rehabilitation, in order to help the juvenile offenders, avoid a future life of crime. The first juvenile court was established in Cook County Illinois and within the next quarter century most states had followed suit establishing their own juvenile court system. These early courts shared the same ideals with the social reformers, to rehabilitate juvenile offenders rather than punish them. Parens patriae or parent of the country which gave the court’s power to act a juvenile’s guardian. In this role, the courts attempted to act in the best interest of the offender and used an informal, non-adversarial, a flexible approach to cases. Juvenile cases were seen as non criminal and it was the courts goal to guide the offender toward life as a law-abiding adult. Under certain circumstances. The juveniles were removed from their homes and placed in reformatories as part of their rehabilitation. (“The History of JUVENILE JUSTICE PART 1| ABA Division for Public Education”)

The United States Supreme Court would hear various cases that would continue to change the juvenile justice system. In Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541 (1966), Morris Kent admitted to robbing and raping a woman at the age of sixteen. His mother obtained a lawyer, who had a psychiatric evaluation performed on Kent, which ultimately placed him in a psychiatric hospital. Kent was tried as an adult after the court relinquished its power of the case to criminal court. In an attempt to prevent the waiver, the lawyer stated that if Kent were given the proper treatment he could be rehabilitated.

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