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Juvenile Law and Justice

Juvenile Courts

Reform-minded legislators in Illinois created the first separate court for children in the state's Juvenile Court Act of 1899. The juvenile court established in Illinois became the model for juvenile court systems across the country. State legislatures began to create juvenile courts and to give them a tremendous amount of authority to control a wide variety of children. In Illinois, this included

any child who for any reason is destitute or homeless or abandoned; or dependent on the public for support; or has not proper parental care or guardianship; or who habitually begs or receives alms; or who is found living in any house of ill fame or with any vicious or disreputable person . . . and any child under the age of 8 years who is found peddling or selling any article or singing or playing any musical instrument upon the street or giving any public entertainment.
Juvenile courts could place such children with a foster family or in a reform school for any of these status offenses.

The first juvenile courts were intended to benefit needy juveniles who needed the basic necessities of life and a measure of adult guidance. By requiring that the state care for needy children, the act swept many children into the court system where the state could monitor their maturation. Under the original Illinois model, juveniles found to be within the juvenile court's jurisdiction remained under the court's control until they reached the age of 21.

Juvenile courts also de-criminalized juvenile transgressions. No longer would juvenile crime be prosecuted in adult court, and no longer would the proceeding be called a prosecution. Instead, juvenile criminal proceedings were called "hearings" or "adjudications." Juveniles were not charged in an indictment or information, but instead were brought before the court with a "petition." Juveniles were not tried before juries, but before a juvenile court judge. If a juvenile was found to have committed a crime, he or she was adjudged "delinquent" instead of guilty. Sentences were fashioned according to the best interests of the juvenile instead of inflicting punishment to fit the crime. Juveniles were supposed to be rehabilitated, not punished. The form and substance of juvenile court, from start to finish, was designed to treat juveniles with more tenderness than was afforded in the adult court system.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationGreat American Court CasesJuvenile Law and Justice - Juvenile Courts, The "system", Juvenile Or Adult?, Juvenile Law, Further Readings