Before the sixteenth century children were considered either property tobe traded or small adults, when by the age 5 or 6 were expected to assumethe roll of an adult. As the centuries moved forward the views of childrenchanged, children were seen not as miniature adults but as having adistinct personality, that they were easily corrupted and needed to becorrected to become morale and productive members of society. In the colonial era of America the family was the basic unit of economicproduction and the main outlet for social interaction also religion was amain staple that held a community together and is where families turned towhen they had trouble in the home.
As the country grew so did the need for some type of institutions foryouth offenders. These places were called “houses of refuge” The youth inthese places were reformed into hard working productive members of society. The stay in one of these places were in determined time or until theyreached the age of 18 or 21 depending on their crime and the willingness ofthe youth to reform and become a responsible citizen. By the end of the 1800s different types institutions and mechanisms weredeveloped to respond to the difficult children.
Still, the problemspresented by the children who were believed to be in need of so type ofcorrection were the homeless, the neglected, abused and wayward as well asthe ones with criminal behavior. A new group of reformers called the “thechild savers”, advocated a new institution to deal with these youthproblems. Thus began the juvenile courts. By the late 1800s the legal mechanism was in place for treating of youthdifferent from adults Examplesof this were that in some jurisdictions had set minimum age to which ajuvenile could be charged as an adult and placed in adult penitentiaries. The legal philosophy justifying states intervening in the lives ofchildren is the doctrine of “parens patriae”(the state as parent) was giventhe judicial endorsement in the case of Mary Ann Crouse who had beencommitted to the Philadelphia House of Refuge by her mother as a punishmentand against her father’s wishes,.
the Commonwealth Supreme Court ofPennsylvania stated that it wasn’t a punishment but a benevolence, no dueprocess claim could be made by the father, and that the father had nostanding anyway because the commonwealth had the legal responsibility tostep in as to were the parents were irresponsible in their obligations totheir children. An interesting question came up in the 1905 case of the Commonwealth vs. Fisher where the Pennsylvania supreme court ruled that parens patriaealways trumps due process in the juvenile justice. When the Commonwealthacts on parens patriae no due process protection is necessary. Notreatment plans are needed it is assumed that anything the Commonwealthdoes to a child in its custody is better than what the parents couldprovide.
The Fisher case set the tone for juvenile justice up until the1960s. An activist United States Supreme Court in the 1960s significantlyaltered the juvenile justice system. That sets the tone for today’scourts. Three cases that are worth looking at are Kent vs.
the US (1966)This is the first full scale examination of the juvenile justice systembrought on by the case of a 16 year old rapist who was transferred to adultcourt. The justices ruled that such waivers or transfers should beaccompanied by a special hearing, the assistance of counsel, access torecords by such counsel, and a written statement of reasons for suchtransfer. In re Gault (1967) A landmark case on the failure of the juvenilejustice system involving a 15 year old adjudicated delinquent on the wordof an Arizona sheriff’s deputy sentenced to 6 years for an offense(telephone harassment) that carried a two month penalty if committed as anadult. The Justices ruled that the juveniles deserve the right againstself incrimination (Miranda Rights) adequate notice of charge, the rightconfront and cross examine accusers, assistance of counsel, and he rightsof sworn testimony and appeal.
With this the juvenile courts became moreformal and adversarial. The Third case is McKeiver v. Pennsylvania (1971) a seminal case thatslowed down the granting of due process rights to juveniles by denying thema trial by jury. The Justices thought that the bench trials were adequateand that America wasn’t yet ready to abandon the philosophy of juvenilejustice as a less than fully adversarial process. The fundamental difference of the adult court vs. the juvenile court arethat the juveniles are given a little more latitude when the judge isconsidering the sentence for the offender and the guidelines are differ inthe length of time and where the sentence is carried out.word 810