In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Juvenile Detention in the US

  • Introduction
  • Historical Perspectives on Justice Involved Children and Adolescents
  • Racial and Gender Differences in the Justice Involvement of US Children and Adolescents
  • Environmental, Social, and Personal Correlates of Justice Involved Children and Youth
  • Mental Health Issues and Justice Involved Children and Adolescents
  • Intervention and Treatment for Justice Involved Children and Adolescents
  • Programs Designed to Support the Reentry of Justice Involved Children and Adolescents Back Into Their Communities
  • Alternatives to Placing Children and Adolescents in the Justice System

Childhood Studies Juvenile Detention in the US
Yvette R. Harris
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0153


According to statistics released by the US Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in 2010 there were seventy thousand juveniles between the ages of 10 and 17 caught up in the justice system. What causes children and adolescents to commit crimes? While there is no general consensus, scholars have advanced the idea that the interactions of multiple environmental, social, cognitive, and personal factors are at the root of juvenile criminal behavior, resulting in justice involvement for children and adolescents. In the United States, these rates vary by race and gender. African American children and adolescents are nearly five times more likely to be involved in the justice system than their white peers; Latino and American Indian children and adolescents are between two and three times as likely to be confined. These trends, referred to as “disproportionate minority contact” (DMC), have drawn considerable attention from scholars, social justice advocates, and civil rights leaders. Adolescent males outnumber females by 2 to 1 in the juvenile justice system. However, in the past decade, the number of female adolescents in the juvenile justice system has increased. Juvenile crime seems to follow an age-crime curve. The age-crime curve suggests that engagement in criminal behavior increases in midadolescence and decreases by early adulthood. This age-crime curve differs by type of crime, gender, and race. That is to say, engagement in violent crimes peaks earlier than engagement in property crimes; the age-crime curve peaks earlier for females, later for males; and the age-crime curve is higher among African American males residing low resource and high risk neighborhoods.

Historical Perspectives on Justice Involved Children and Adolescents

The articles and books cited in this section provide a historical account of the practice of incarcerating US children and adolescents. Smith 1998 and McLanahan 2008 discuss the increasing trend of incarcerating juveniles. Wordes and Jones 1998 offers suggestions for areas of reform. See also Meng, et al. 2013, Banks 2013, Steinberg 2009, and Farrington 2003.

  • Banks, C. Youth, Crime and Justice. New York: Routledge, 2013.

    Provides a discussion of the juvenile justice system and offers theories on why children and adolescents commit crimes. Includes information of the history of juvenile institutions and concludes with an international perspective on juvenile justice.

  • Farrington, D. P. “Key Results from the First 40 Years of the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development.” In Taking Stock of Delinquency: An Overview of Findings from Contemporary Longitudinal Studies. Edited by T. P. Thornberry and M. D. Krohn, 137–183. New York: Kluwer-Plenum, 2003.

    Chapter discusses the findings from a 40-year study exploring the criminal career paths of men. Through interviews with parents, teachers, and peers, the researchers observed that there are certain protective factors that promote desistance to ongoing criminal activity for these men.

  • McLanahan, Sara, ed. Special Issue: Juvenile Justice. In Future of Children 18.2 (2008).

    The online resource “The Future of Children,” a collaboration of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public And International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution published this special issue online journal in 2008. The journal provides a comprehensive overview of the US juvenile justice system, highlighting trends, DMC, and an overview of prevention and intervention efforts.

  • Meng, A., Segal R., and Boden, E. “American Juvenile Justice System: History in the Making.” International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health 25 (2013): 275–278.

    DOI: 10.1515/ijamh-2013-0062

    Provides a historical overview for the rationale of separating juvenile offenders from adult offenders. Includes information on the Supreme Court ruling mandating changes to the juvenile justice system and discusses the sovereignty of states to prosecute juveniles in juvenile courts or as adults.

  • Smith, B. “Children in Custody: 20-Year Trends in Juvenile Detention, Correctional, and Shelter Facilities.” Crime and Delinquency 44.4 (1998): 526–543.

    DOI: 10.1177/0011128798044004004

    Provides a comprehensive review on the number of juveniles held in public (detention centers) and private (i.e., half-way houses) over a twenty-year time frame. Includes an informative discussion on the link between the types of offenses and placement in public versus private facilities.

  • Steinberg, L. “Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice.” Annual Review of Clinical Psychology 5 (2009): 459–485.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.032408.153603

    Provides a developmental perspective on factors that predispose juveniles to commit crimes. Offers a comprehensive review on findings from the studies of brain, cognitive, and psychosocial development that impact the ability of a juvenile to stand trial, and the impact of punitive sanctions on their development and behavior.

  • Wikstrom, P., and D. Butterworth. Adolescent Crime: Individual Differences and Lifestyles. New York: Routledge, 2006.

    Discusses, from an international perspective, why young people commit crimes. Includes information from the Peterborough Youth study and concludes with implications for crime prevention both nationally and globally.

  • Wordes, M., and S. M. Jones. “Trends in Juvenile Detention and Steps toward Reform.” Crime and Delinquency 44.4 (1998): 544–560.

    DOI: 10.1177/0011128798044004005

    A comprehensive review of such issues as the distinction between one-day populations, admission rates, court referrals, and length of stays. The article also discusses the trend in overcrowding in juvenile facilities and concludes with suggestions for reforming the juvenile justice system.

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