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Police: Handling of Juveniles

Historical Overview And Organizational Structure, Legal Rights Of Juveniles, Police-juvenile Interactions, Police Handling Of Juveniles: Outcomes

The juvenile justice system mirrors the adult system of criminal justice in that it has three basic components: police, courts, and corrections. More likely than not, whether or not a juvenile is processed into this system is dependent upon the outcome of an encounter with the police. It is accurate to say that the police serve as the "gatekeepers" to the juvenile justice system—they serve this function in the adult system as well. The police in turn begin the criminal justice process by making initial decisions about how to handle incidents involving juveniles. Indeed, the role of the police in juvenile justice is an important one.

Police officers have many contacts with juveniles that are for the most part unknown. For this reason, the cases that reach the juvenile courts are only a small fraction of the interactions that police have with juvenile suspects and offenders. In deciding how to handle incidents involving youth, the police have a wide range of responses available to them. This latitude is a necessary element to police work as patrol officers are presented with various and often complex situations (Whitaker). However, in light of this discretion, one should be concerned with how police make decisions involving juveniles as it is an important decision, one that may formally classify juveniles (correctly or incorrectly) as delinquents and introduce them to the juvenile justice system.

This entry will focus on the police part of juvenile justice and will provide an overview of policing juveniles. It will briefly review the police role in juvenile justice from a historical perspective and it will review the organizational structures existing in policing today to handle juveniles as well as the legal rights of juveniles who are accused of some wrongdoing. This entry will then review what we know about police-juvenile interactions, including a discussion of how police dispose of their encounters with youth, and what factors shape their decisionmaking. Finally, ideas for future research on policing juveniles are discussed.



In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967).

State v. Lowery, 230 A.2d 907 (1967).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law