In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Juvenile Justice System

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews
  • Data Sources
  • The Police And Juveniles
  • The Juvenile Court And Juvenile Law
  • Juvenile Corrections
  • Reentry And Aftercare
  • Disproportionate Minority Contact And Confinement
  • Alternatives To and Innovations In The Juvenile Justice System

Criminology The Juvenile Justice System
Terrance J. Taylor
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0042


The American juvenile justice system is an often-misunderstood component of our justice system. Developed in the late 1800s, the juvenile justice system was designed to be distinct from the adult criminal justice system. This was based, in part, on the idea that youth offenders were particularly malleable and would be more responsive than adults to individualized treatment efforts. Since its inception, the mission of the juvenile justice system has emphasized discretion and rehabilitation. Yet throughout history there have been calls for the juvenile justice system to take on a mission and form similar to that of the adult criminal justice system. The readings highlighted here focus on the history and mission of the juvenile justice system, the function of key juvenile justice institutions (such as police, court, and corrections), and how the system has changed over time (alternatives and innovations).

Introductory Works

A number of excellent overviews of the purpose and function of the American juvenile justice system are available. Mack 1909 provides a rationale for the establishment of the juvenile court movement in the early 1900s. Written from the perspective of one of original reformers, this piece offers an insightful glimpse into the original intentions of juvenile justice advocates. By contrast, Rubin 1985 provides an insight into the thoughts and actions of different types of juvenile court judges, illustrating how juvenile court judges' ideals and personalities shape the operation of the court and affect the outcome of cases. These pieces tie together in illustrating the flexibility embedded in juvenile court processes. Broader historical pieces can be found in Feld 1999, Schlossman 2005, and Tanenhaus 2004. Each of these works focuses on the influence of broader social influences on the development of the juvenile justice system. Feld focuses on how the changing conception of race and race relations has influenced popular conceptions of juvenile offenders and corresponding juvenile-justice responses. Schlossman and Tanenhaus each use historical methods to document the establishment of the juvenile justice systems in two large urban areas. Although shaped by similar concerns and relatively close in temporal and geographic proximity, these authors illustrate the differences affecting the establishment of the juvenile justice systems in Milwaukee and Chicago. Finally, Golden 1997 examines the overlap between the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.

  • Feld, Barry C. 1999. Bad kids: Race and the transformation of the juvenile court. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Based on years of research experience, this book describes how the juvenile court movement has changed over time. Considerable attention is given to how the civil rights movement and corresponding modifications to the meaning of “race” in American society have resulted in changes to juvenile court procedures.

  • Golden, Renny. 1997. Disposable children: America's child welfare system. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

    Provides a critical review of America's welfare and juvenile justice systems. Based on first-hand accounts of those involved with these systems. Illustrates the problems involved with the systems and efforts to improve them.

  • Mack, Julian W. 1909. The juvenile court. Harvard Law Review 23:104–122.

    DOI: 10.2307/1325042

    Provides a framework for the establishment of the juvenile court. Interesting read focusing on failures of the adult criminal system in processing juvenile cases, and providing the rationale for the juvenile court's mission.

  • Rubin, H. Ted. 1985. Behind the black robes: Juvenile court judges and the court. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

    A unique view of the juvenile court based on detailed portraits of five very different juvenile court judges. Rubin provides interesting insights into the power that individual juvenile court judges have in shaping the inner workings of their courts.

  • Schlossman, Steven L. 2005. Transforming juvenile justice: Reform ideals and institutional realities, 1825–1920. DeKalb: Northern Illinois Univ. Press.

    Examines the ties and competing interests of an early juvenile court and reform school. Historical analysis of newspaper articles and court documents is used to examine the creation of the juvenile justice system in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Emphasis is placed on how social influences and operational imperatives shaped the initiation of the system.

  • Tanenhaus, David S. 2004. Juvenile justice in the making. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Presents a historical analysis of the establishment of the first juvenile court. Uses case files from approximately three thousand cases in Chicago between 1899 and 1926 to examine how and why the juvenile court was established.

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