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A Century of Juvenile Justice

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2000
67 pages
This chapter examines multiple forces that have substantially impacted the juvenile justice endeavor during the 20th century, so as to provide a foundation for envisioning justice for youth in the new century.
From its inception, the central focus of the juvenile justice system has been on delinquency, an amorphous construct that includes not only "criminal" behavior but also an array of youthful actions that offend prevailing social mores. Thus, the meaning of delinquency is markedly time dependent. Likewise, methods for addressing juvenile delinquency have reflected the vagaries of social construction of youth and youth deviance. American juvenile justice was founded on internally conflicting value systems: the diminished responsibility and heightened malleability of youths versus individual culpability and the social control of "protocriminality." During its first century, the latter value for juvenile justice has become increasingly predominant over the former. The youth caught up in the juvenile justice system, however, have remained overwhelmingly society's most marginalized youths, from immigrants' offspring in the early 20th century to children of color in contemporary society. Population projections for the 21st century predict great increases in the proportions of Hispanic citizens. The gross economic disadvantage that exists for minority families -- especially Hispanic and African-American -- must be viewed in the new century as an important challenge for juvenile justice, rather than as a cultural blight that produces deviants rather than prosocial, law-abiding citizens. 6 exhibits, 4 notes, and 203 references

Date Published: January 1, 2000