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Juvenile Justice: Juvenile Court


The people who work in juvenile courts often include judges, attorneys (prosecution and defense), administrators, clerks, bailiffs, and a wide range of other staff such as secretaries, security guards, and maintenance workers. For the most part, however, when one thinks of juvenile court personnel, the primary categories are judges, attorneys, caseworkers (probation officers), and court administrative staff (executive and clerical).

Some juvenile courts focus primarily on fact finding. Juveniles brought before such courts are usually referred to other agencies following disposition. These courts are likely to have few employees—a judge, perhaps a court reporter, and a clerk. Other juvenile courts provide a full array of pretrial and postdisposition services and require large professional staffs. Juvenile courts in more than half of the states administer their own probation departments and many are responsible for their own juvenile detention centers as well. These full-service courts essentially function as social welfare agencies, correctional facilities, and collection agencies. Jurisdictions also vary in the extent of their pre-court screening of cases, partly because they vary in the degree to which law enforcement agencies divert youths from the juvenile justice system. If the local police send virtually all cases forward for court handling, the juvenile court's intake process must contend with a diverse population of youth and the court is required to employ more staff.

Many juvenile courts employ referees, masters, or commissioners to conduct juvenile court hearings. In some jurisdictions, these nonjudicial hearing officers handle a large portion of the juvenile court's workload. Their authority is often limited to entering findings and recommendations that require confirmation by a judge to become final. Because nonjudicial hearing officers usually earn less salary than judges, some courts rely heavily on referees and masters. Nonjudicial hearing officers may outnumber judges in a particular court by as much as seven to one. Some observers have expressed concern that the widespread use of nonjudicial hearing officers demonstrates a troublesome attitude among state legislatures and perhaps the public—that the juvenile court is an inferior forum and thus judges are not required (Rubin, 1981).

Another growing concern about personnel in the juvenile court is that too many juveniles still receive inadequate legal representation. Before the 1960s, there were few defense attorneys in juvenile courts. In many jurisdictions, however, the situation has not improved substantially. In the late 1990s, a joint study by the American Bar Association, the Youth Law Center of San Francisco, and the Juvenile Law Center of Philadelphia suggested improvements were still needed, including: (1) an increase in the number of defense attorneys and related support personnel; (2) greater equity in funding for juvenile defenders and prosecutors and for juvenile defenders in comparison with adult defenders; (3) more continuing legal training for juvenile defense attorneys; (4) abolition of the practice of using juvenile court as a training ground for new attorneys; (5) a policy to guarantee juveniles effective counsel at all stages of the juvenile court process; and (6) the creation of a training academy for juvenile defense attorneys equivalent to the federally funded training available to juvenile court judges and prosecutors.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawJuvenile Justice: Juvenile Court - Origins, Expansion, Retrenchment, Structure, Personnel, Process, Caseload, Juvenile Rights, Continuing Controversies