LA Coordinated System of Care
Emergency.Louisiana.gov

U.S.History

In colonial times, children over the age of five were treated either as small adults or property. A seven year old child could be sentenced in criminal courts. In 1648 in Massachusetts, a child who cursed his natural parents could be put to death. In 1825, the Society for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency advocated separating juvenile and adult offenders. Soon after, facilities for juveniles were established in most major cities. Although these facilities were established to reform delinquents through prayer, study and hard work, youth were still punished with whippings and leg irons. By mid century, these facilities were criticized for abuse and states began to assume responsibility for juvenile facilities.

In 1899, the nation’s first juvenile court for youth under the age of 16 was established in Chicago to provide rehabilitation rather than punishment. By 1925, following the Chicago model, all but two states had juvenile courts whose goals were to turn youth into productive citizens utilizing treatment that included warnings, probation, and training school confinement. Treatment lasted until the child was “cured” or turned 21. Although judges spoke with the offending children and decided upon the punishment, the lack of established rules and poor rehabilitation led to unfair treatment.

The 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case of In re Gault held that juveniles were entitled to the same constitutional due process rights as adults, beginning a national reform in juvenile justice. In 1967, the juvenile justice system was overhauled to afford children many of the same rights that adults have in court.

In the 1970s, community-based programs, diversion, and deinstitutionalization became the banners of juvenile justice policy. A number of class-action lawsuits challenged the conditions and policies of juvenile institutions, alleging cruel and unusual punishment. In 1974, Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which still governs the juvenile justice system. The Act requires separation of juvenile offenders from adult offenders and deinstitutionalization of status offenders.

During the 1980s, the pendulum began to swing toward "law and order," as violent juvenile crime increased and public safety became a concern. During the 1990s the nation saw a time of unprecedented change as state legislatures passed laws to crack down on juvenile crime, as Americans voiced growing concern over highly publicized and violent juvenile crime.

Due to a series of school shootings and other violent incidents, the public began to fear a new breed of "juvenile super predators," resulting in significant changes to national policy. Every state then passed laws making it easier to try juveniles in adult criminal court.

Recently, states have attempted strike a balance in their approach to juvenile justice systems as research suggests that locking youth away in large, secure juvenile facilities is ineffective and does not provide rehabilitation.

Changes in Life Sentences for Juveniles
 
In 2005, the U. S. Supreme Court forbade the death penalty for juveniles. In 2010 the Supreme Court limited life sentences without parole for young criminals who commit murder. It was ruled unconstitutional to give a criminal who was under 18 at the time of the crime, a life term in prison with no chance for parole for crimes other than murder. 
 
In 2012, the Supreme Court continued its trend of holding that children cannot be automatically punished the same way as adult criminals without considering their age and other factors, by further ruling that juveniles under the age of 18 who commit murder may not receive mandatory life sentences with no chance for parole. Each case must be decided on its own merits and the sentence imposed must take into account the child’s age and other factors. The ruling allows judges and juries to consider a juvenile's age when they hand down sentences for some of the harshest crimes, instead of making life in prison without parole an automatic sentence. The ruling left open the possibility that judges can sentence juveniles to life without parole in individual cases of murder, but said state and federal laws cannot automatically impose such a sentence. 
 
The court recognized that children need additional attention and protection in the criminal justice system, saying that mandatory death-in-prison sentences don't allow for consideration of the unique status of children and their potential for change.  
 
History of Juvenile Probation
 
The juvenile probation system developed with the evolution of the juvenile justice and court system in America as a way to separate young lawbreakers from adult criminals. A response to the harshness of the criminal law system during the 1800s was the effort to keep young lawbreakers out of institutions. In some cases, children were bound to serve apprenticeships instead of prison terms. In some eastern cities, "placement" societies shipped poor and delinquent children west by the train carload to live with farm families.

In the early 1840s, Boston shoemaker John Augustus identified a way of keeping people out of jail: he bailed them out and asked the court to continue their cases while he kept a close eye on them. In most instances, Augustus did not know these people personally. He never had an official title or received payment from the court, although he became a fixture in the courts. Mr. Augustus assured judges that if the adults and children that he chose were released, he "would note their general conduct, and see that they were sent to school or supplied with some honest employment." By the time of Augustus’ death in 1859, he had provided bail for over 1900 juveniles and adults. Over the next half-century, probation supervision of juvenile delinquents became more and more common.

In 1899, the Illinois legislature established a special court in Cook County (Chicago) that relied on informal procedures to assist children in trouble. This court dealt differently with children who broke the law by avoiding the stigma of criminality and by treating them as "children in need of aid, encouragement, and guidance." It is regarded as the world’s first juvenile court. It was in this court that the practice of probation and the role of the Probation and Parole Officer (PPO) took form. The National Probation Association was formed in 1907.

In the second half of the 20th century, juvenile probation underwent significant changes. Rather than reducing the number of juveniles placed in institutions, the opposite occurred in the name of "treatment." In the 1960s, the "labeling" theory suggested that contact with the juvenile justice system would place a stigma on children. In 1974, a largely misquoted and misinterpreted article entitled, What Works? Questions and Answers about Prison Reform concluded that nothing works.

During the 1980s, the focus of Probation and Parole Officers shifted as youth crime rapidly escalated in number and seriousness. In the 1990s, probation remained the cornerstone of the juvenile justice system, with over half of the nation’s juvenile court caseload receiving probation services.

With the turn of a new century, the field of juvenile probation continues to evolve. Research has concluded that communities must become more involved in the problem-solving, preventive approach to juvenile crime. The traditional role of the Probation and Parole Officer working primarily from the office and seeing the client on a limited basis is shifting to include more face-to-face contact in the youth’s own environment.