The U.S. Juvenile Justice Policy Landscape

The U.S. Juvenile Justice Policy Landscape

Abstract

Juvenile arrests for violent crime reached an all-time high in 1994. In response, lawmakers passed a host of reforms that profoundly altered and seemingly criminalized juvenile justice practice and policy by making the juvenile justice system more like the adult system. It remains unclear, however, that this characterization holds true today. The goal of this chapter is to examine the state of juvenile justice policy nationally to investigate this claim. In particular, it explores whether juvenile justice today is uniformly punitive in its orientation or whether it reflects the founding tenets of the original juvenile court. To this end, we draw on analyses from a review of recent legislation and practice and a national survey of juvenile justice practitioners. We find evidence that juvenile justice today clearly represents a mix of punitive and rehabilitative approaches and that states vary dramatically in the extent to which they lean toward greater punitiveness or rehabilitation. The results underscore the importance of providing more balanced assessments of the state of juvenile justice by examining a broad spectrum of policies. They also underscore the importance of recognizing that juvenile justice is not monolithicit varies greatly from state to state and even within states.

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