When Was the Juvenile Justice System Established?

Juvenile crime rates have declined in recent decades, causing a societal shift toward systemic reforms designed to rehabilitate young offenders instead of punishing them for their actions. Today, depending on the circumstances, a judge may consider alternative sentencing options, educational programs or community service for a young person accused of a crime. However, that wasn’t always the case.

A Brief History of the Juvenile Justice System

Before the juvenile justice system existed, judges had no choice but to sentence youth to the same facilities as adults. In these penitentiaries, minors lived side by side with hardened adult criminals and mentally ill people, regardless of the nature of the offenses they committed. 

Activists Thomas Eddy and John Griscom, who opposed incarcerating youth alongside adults, established the New York House of Refuge in 1825. As the first institution in the U.S. intended to shelter underprivileged young people believed to be on the path to delinquency, it represented the nation’s earliest attempt to create a juvenile detention facility.

By the 1840s, approximately 25 other communities throughout the country had built Houses of Refuge. Sadly, these institutions soon faced the same systemic concerns that troubled adult prisons – including overcrowding, inmate exploitation and staff misconduct.

Inspired by the burgeoning effort to create public schools, social organizers started to push for a new type of juvenile detention that provided young offenders with an education. With this momentum, reform schools became part of America’s juvenile justice system. Today, young offenders in California can continue receiving an education in juvenile detention.

The Creation of Juvenile Court

In the eyes of the criminal justice system, youth and adults were the same until the late 19th century. However, reformers continued to insist that young people deserved a separate juvenile court system because their moral and cognitive capacities were still developing.

Cook County, Illinois, established the nation’s first juvenile court in 1899, intending to create a place where minors could receive rehabilitation and protective supervision at a judge’s discretion. However, by the mid-20th century, people had started questioning the effectiveness of juvenile court judges because of the obvious treatment disparities resulting from the opinions, personalities and attitudes of individual judges.

In the 1960s, the Supreme Court made a series of decisions that regulated consistency among American juvenile courts and asserted that juvenile offenders have constitutional rights, including due process and equal protection. By the early 2000s, California began instituting the most comprehensive, progressive reforms in the U.S. juvenile justice system’s history.

Navigating the Juvenile Justice System

It can be overwhelming to learn your son, daughter or adolescent loved one has been accused of a crime in Newport Beach or Tustin. Before talking to the police or anyone else, your first step should be to contact an experienced juvenile defense lawyer.

Schedule a complimentary, no-obligation consultation with the Law Offices of Katie Walsh to decide your best course of action. If you decide to hire our team, we will start working on your case immediately to assure the best possible outcome. As a former district attorney and prosecutor, Katie Walsh has handled thousands of juvenile cases and is also an expert in school disciplinary cases. Your family deserves reliable representation to protect your child’s bright future.

×Coronavirus and the Orange County Courts: The Criminal Courts are still open. Don’t miss your court date. Let the Attorney appear for you. Free Consult-Call Katie Walsh at (714) 351-0178.