The Juvenile Justice System in the United States


The juvenile justice system in the United States (US) originates from the late 1800s. As a result, in 1899 the country developed its first juvenile justice court. All throughout its existence, the juvenile corrections have primarily oscillated between rehabilitation to the use of punitive forms of punishment. At the beginning, the juvenile punishments encircled the thought of correcting the culprits and dealing with the wrongdoers as decent youngsters who merely selected a bad direction. Though beginning in the 1980s, the juvenile justice system adopted similar nationwide policies as the adult justice structure.

Since then the teenagers have been subjected to tougher and more punitive forms of correction, including locking more and more juvenile delinquents. As a result, kids aged 14 or 12 have been convicted and incarcerated under the adult court system (Sawyer, 2019). The discussion in this paper delves into different aspects of the juvenile justice system. The first part focuses on the effects of juvenile detention on future recidivism. The second part highlights the declining tendency of detention rates in the US. The third segment focuses on the psychological effects of detention, while the last point is on the significance of community-based programs in reducing recidivism.

Effects of Juvenile Detention on Future Recidivism

Majority of the states in the US legally define a juvenile as any person who has not attained the age of 18 years. Still each state is permitted to make exceptions for younger citizens to be charged as grown-ups in some cases or for particular violations. Therefore, the juvenile court system is an intricate and salient topic for policy makers across different states. Detention policies have an influence on a sizeable number of juveniles and the communities where they emerge from. This makes it vital to assess the connection between captivity and subsequent criminal posture. In particular, the policy makers have focused on the use of safe incarceration among juvenile culprits considering that there are thousands of minors are being held in protected custody at any given time. The intended goal of detention is to prevent teenagers from engaging further in criminal conduct. The system establishes to enlighten the young citizens on the perceived penalty of crime.

Even as the adult criminal justice system is largely premised on maximizing public security, the youthful system seeks to neutralize this objective by focusing on the juvenile’s well-being and provides room for improvement. Therefore, a higher proportion of children who end up in jail will finally be released back into society. Nevertheless, the influence of incarceration on this considerable number of youngsters in their later criminal conduct stays largely unknown. In research by von Werthern et al. (2018), there are varying outcomes of incarceration on recidivism for minors caused by differing needs the young people display and the varied teachings they undergo while in the prison. Different views consider that custodial corrections reduce recidivism in juvenile settings, others support that confinement either increases recidivism or maintains status quo.

Based on the varying opinions, it can be considered that imprisonment ought to be the preferred verdict only for a distinctive kind of juvenile offences. The outcome of detention depends on the wrongdoer’s elementary traits and preexisting tendency to commit crimes. In general, staying in prison denies the child an opportunity to learn in a natural environment. The wrongdoer’s human capital accumulation is affected and possibly will expose the minors to unfavorable peer aftermaths.

The use of evidence-based programs can help to manage the prospect of recidivism when handling juvenile offenders as opposed to just locking them up. Evidence-based programs are based on scientific and empirically supported information on the defined indicators of criminal conduct. These will provide guidance on the best strategies in the amelioration of the aspects that can cause change of behavior. The use of conventional approaches, such as treatment is cost-effective and has succeeded in decreasing recidivism for juniors in the judicial system (Young et al., 2017). Analogous impactful policies integrate therapy aspects focused primarily on criminogenic wants. Past conduct is used as the best forecaster of future character. Criminogenic needs include the active risk factors along with the defensive characteristics that influence offending. The focus should be on reducing the risk factors while enhancing the protective factors so as to lessen the possibility of reoffending.

Furthermore, the future prospect of committing crime can be mitigated against by means of the principles of beneficial interventions. These measures must embrace three important conditions in handling the offender, that is the needs, risk, and responsivity principles. The needs principle signifies elements of correction to target based on the criminogenic needs. The risk principle defines the individuals to be targeted, in general, high-risk offenders should be given priority. The responsivity principle dictates the mechanisms to use in implementing the intervention; interaction must be furnished according to the offender’s coping capacity and mode.

Declining Detention Rates in the US

On any given day, different confinement centers in the US house thousands of juvenile offenders away from their home as a process of the juvenile justice system. Even though majority of the junior convicts are aged 16 or older, the centers also play host to over 500 children under the age of 12 years (Sawyer, 2019). The main centers include the correctional-style restrictive facilities where many minors are held without even having been prosecuted. Even though the high numbers of children convicts may be stunning, as of 2000 there has been a considerable decline in the number of youths in confinement by over 60 percent. The trend is expected to continue as different agencies including nongovernmental organizations and public entities undertake to reduce youth incarceration.

The reduction is expected to be enabled through fewer arrests of minors across the country indicated by juvenile detentions ahead of adjudication. The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) initiative is at the forefront in reducing pre-adjudication detention. JADI is a program under the Annie Casey Foundation commenced in the past several decades. The foundation has leveraged on the JADI initiative to provide grants to close to 300 jurisdictions across the US (von Werthern et al., 2018). The grants are provided to jurisdictions desiring to attain particular detention lowering objectives using JDAI’s proposed strategies.

However, there are persistent toxic practices in the juvenile justice system due to a heavy dependence on internment. The trends indicate that a majority of the juvenile convicts are Black Americans followed by the Native American youth, then Asian and Pacific Islander, white or Hispanic teenagers. Moreover, more youth are confined under the public judicial systems particularly for somewhat minor offenses than for serious crimes. Sawyer (2019) indicates that the odds for children apprehended and referred to court has remained the same since 2005 at one in three.

The Psychological Effects of Detention

In 1989, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was founded by many world nations to advocate for the rights of children across the globe. The UNCRC provides a legal tool for protecting of any individual under the age of 18. Therefore, the body acknowledges that children attract unique attention given their tender age and allied developmental deficiencies. In performance of it’s mandate, the UNCRC has developed over 40 distinctive rights for children, focused on providing unique protection of juvenile convicts (Walker & Herting, 2020). The primary basis of the laws seeking to protect children is to cater for their best interest where their needs will be evaluated based on their age. In particular, the UNCRC specifies that any child shall be denied freedom and be separated from their seniors unless it is contemplated in the child’s best interests not to do take such a measure.

Sadly, only the US does not ascribe to the principles of UNCRC in the world in helping to promote children’s lives. On the contrary, the country has produced incredibly harsh sanctions on notable youthful offenders. That’s why the rate of incarcerated youth in the country is high in the world. Besides, the punitive laws make it easier for the young lawbreakers to be dealt with and put behind bars as grown-ups within the US justice system. As a consequence, not every child in America enjoys their full adolescence as many children’s life is likely to be curtailed. It is considered that juvenile detention will only repress youths who engage in violent, serious, or chronic offences.

However, the confinement is not regarded as most suitable for status delinquents and youth that perpetrate technological infractions of probation. The kind of installation where a youngster is incarcerated can greatly influence their access to services, safety, health, and other outcomes once released. In addition, adult centers of incarceration are the most terrible place where youths can be confined. The facilities were not originally constructed to deliver age-appropriate remedial services for teens and children. According to Walker & Herting (2020), children locked up in adult, areas need to be placed in isolated imprisonment to comply with the different standards on safety, including “sight and sound” detachment from imprisoned adults. The young teenagers who find themselves locked up in such adult installations are five times more expected to commit suicide than those in pure juvenile centers.

Furthermore, correctional-style minor detention facilities and long-term supposedly secure prisons for the youth are incredibly destructive to their lives. More and more adolescents in confinement and correctional programs are exposed to sexual victimization. They suffer from solitary detention, use of constraints, unnecessary use of force, strip searches, poor connections with staff, and fear being attacked by others. The detention facilities also tend to be vast such that they accommodate many youths who report higher cases of sexual victimization. The young children also lack appropriate educational services, such as GED preparation, special education, and training of jobs (Young et al., 2017). The youngsters are highly expected to report discomfort in sleeping because of light. This means that, just like most of the adult facilities, the lights are left on even after dusk. Such an environment provides a typical setting for cases of trauma under worse conditions that are highly degrading.

Nonetheless, a lot of children are held in jails for simple and low-level crimes. These facilities do not cater for the children’s needs in providing supportive services and programs. The long-term secure facilities where youths are confined are characterized by poor conditions for their development. At times called training schools, the facilities are generally the vastest and aged buildings, occasionally holding a lot of youths behind razor wire railings. The juveniles are likely to be subjected to robotic restrictions, pepper spray, and solitary incarceration. In addition, other youths are detained under reception/diagnostic centers, which are mostly situated close to long-term facilities. In these centers, the staff assess the youngsters assigned by the court system and allot them to corrective facilities. These detention centers, which are meant for transitional placements, hold young kids for more than expected spanning periods of three months up to one year and over.

Even though a small percentage of delinquents are officially processed the country by criminal courts, these transfers can cause severe effects to the kids. These effects may not be similar across all states, but they entail being placed on the public record of imprisonment. Youths placed in these records suffer from the pain of having to report on the cases in applying for jobs. Most employees consider former convicts to be ineligible employees given their past criminal record. Additionally, the youthful convicts are registered in a state’s sex offender registries face the prospect of being incarcerated as adults.

Importance of Community-Based Programs to Reduce Recidivism

Correctional facilities in the US need to be equipped to provide services and programs to the youthful convicts. But they are crippled by insufficient resources and the requisite skills and knowledge on how to fight the social difficulty of recidivism. In their place, community-based organizations and professionals, including social workers, take over the mandate of targeting recidivism and donating best practice correction measures to bolster triumphant community reentry for ex-convicts. The ingredient for success is understanding the systems theory and the person based on the environment in which they exist. The community-based organizations provide programs that are intended to influence the ex-convicts and the world around them as a way of lowering recidivism.

Community-based options involve an assortment of strategies formulated to restrict the need for children to go through the juvenile justice system along with the regularity with which they are put behind bars. Community-based programs further capture programmatic alternatives to safely confine the youth in jail-like juvenile justice centers. They advocate for deterrence measures, including restoration, probation, and evidence-based correction programs. Different practitioners also categorize practice reforms employed at miscellaneous junctures along with the juvenile justice system (Walker & Herting, 2020). They advocate for the implementation of early intervention agendas that keep the youngsters from having to go through the justice system. Examples include using peer or teen jury programs that discourage the desire for the youth to be corrected through the juvenile justice system by using remedial justice interventions. In diverting the youth from being detained in juvenile justice centers, community-based organizations focus on adjudicating justice by employing less punitive alternatives that promote recidivism.

Therefore, community-based alternatives seek to cultivate individual responsibility for their behavior. Enabling the youth to account for their actions helps to build their potential and at the same time reduce the adverse outcomes suffered by youth who go through the system or who are incarcerated. Community-based entities contribute a continuum of vigilance that may have already been commenced in penitentiary. They enable smooth transition of the ex-offenders to the community reentry in a more prosperous fashion. They enable ex-convicts to be identified and requisite programs and supportive services be provided. The community-based organizations facilitate social workers to perform their duties adequately in and out of prison. The workers help to create a smooth reentry of the released youths into society by dealing with barriers and work on the putting up of suitable measures ahead of being released. They aim to decrease recidivism and intensify ex-offender achievement, which can simply help and provide necessary support if the offenders take part in the process.


In conclusion, the juvenile justice system in the US has been in place for a long time. Across the years, the system has been adjusted regularly to cater for different needs in society. In particular, in 1989 the system was varied to involve similar punishments as the adult justice system. The development meant more punitive forms of punishment that led to an increase of youths under incarceration. However, beginning 2000, independent and public bodies, including JADI that is a program developed by the Annie Casey Foundation emerged to advocates for a reduction in the number of youths in prison. The organization provides grants to institutions seeking to reduce the number of juvenile imprisonments. As a result, the number of imprisoned youths has been going down significantly. Imprisonment of children under adult-like conditions has detrimental psychological effects on their growth and mental development due to the suffering the have to endure. Community-based organizations have developed measures to reduce recidivism by ensuring that the youths released from prison have an easy transition to society.


Sawyer, W. (2019). Youth Confinement: The Whole Pie 2019. Prison Policy Initiative. Web.

Walker, S. C., & Herting, J. R. (2020). The impact of pretrial juvenile detention on 12-Month recidivism: A matched comparison study. Crime & Delinquency, 001112872092611. Web.

von Werthern, M., Robjant, K., Chui, Z., Schon, R., Ottisova, L., Mason, C., & Katona, C. (2018). The impact of immigration detention on mental health: a systematic review. BMC Psychiatry, 18(1). Web.

Young, S., Greer, B., & Church, R. (2017). Juvenile delinquency, welfare, justice and therapeutic interventions: a global perspective. BJPsych bulletin, 41(1), 21–29. Web.

Cite this paper

Select style


LawBirdie. (2023, April 10). The Juvenile Justice System in the United States. Retrieved from


LawBirdie. (2023, April 10). The Juvenile Justice System in the United States.

Work Cited

"The Juvenile Justice System in the United States." LawBirdie, 10 Apr. 2023,


LawBirdie. (2023) 'The Juvenile Justice System in the United States'. 10 April.


LawBirdie. 2023. "The Juvenile Justice System in the United States." April 10, 2023.

1. LawBirdie. "The Juvenile Justice System in the United States." April 10, 2023.


LawBirdie. "The Juvenile Justice System in the United States." April 10, 2023.