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After describing the characteristics of youth (and charges) that can bring them within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, the chapter provides an overview of juvenile justice administration and summarizes the aggregated decisions made at each stage of the process by police, intake officers, prosecutors, and judges.Having presented a portrait of juvenile justice, we return to the theme of complexity with which the chapter began.
The availability and suitability of an intervention often influences the outcome of earlier decisions.
As expressed in most state statutes and understood by participants, the goals of the process are to hold youth accountable, to satisfy the demands of due process, and to prevent crime, ideally by providing rehabilitative interventions in the most serious and high-risk cases while keeping costs to a minimum and avoiding the use of expensive interventions for low-risk youth and youth charged with less serious offenses.
There are too many other factors involved, some of which stem from the youth’s behavior, but others originate in bureaucracy, fiscal and political issues, and cultural definitions of social problems.
This chapter aims to provide an overview of the practice of juvenile justice in the United States—that is, the patterns and variations that emerge in 50 states and the District of Columbia as well as those that characterize what is often a highly localized process.
Discussions about juvenile justice policy and practice are confusing if these elements are not clear.
In short, it must be remembered that juvenile delinquency (i.e., conduct for which a juvenile is subject to a delinquency adjudication) is a legally defined concept that varies substantially from state to state.
DEFINING JUVENILE DELINQUENCY The juvenile justice system is the combined effect of decisions and actions taken by the police, the courts, and a wide variety of human services agencies as they respond to incidents of juvenile delinquency. The answer varies from place to place and from case to case. Some illegal behaviors by underage minors are considered to be acts of delinquency; some are not.
How does one define the system that responds to cases of delinquency?
States periodically revisit these age boundaries (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2011c).
Since the mid-1990s, the legislatures of Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin, all redefined the original jurisdiction of their juvenile courts, either raising the boundary for entire age groups (Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin) or raising it for certain classes of offenses (Illinois).