This is an interesting phenomenon. The first reformatory in this country was opened in 1877 at Elmira, New York, and it was speedily copied in many other states. Dedicated to the isolation and separation of those deemed reformable from the older, more mature, and allegedly more sophisticated criminals, it was restricted usually to so-called first felony offenders–which is often a misnomer, since a first offender may have been involved in dozens of serious crimes before being apprehended.
Actually, the reformatories contain the most aggressive, most potentially dangerous prisoners of all, and their separation from the older prisoners to a certain extent involves their removal from a reasonably stabilizing influence. Obviously, fear of contamination was the rationale, although, psychologically, contamination by members of a peer group logically may be expected to have more deep-seated and longer-lasting influence.
This description is not intended to be cynical or in any way derogatory of the improvements that have been made in adult correctional institutions; in recent years, there has been substantial expansion of minimum security (unwalled) facilities. But those concerned with the treatment of adult prisoners are fully cognizant of the fact that reforms have come slowly and spasmodically, and it is evident that adult penalinstitutions with populations of several thousand can at best provide mass treatment only, with little or no individualization.
Beginnings have been made in modifying some of the traditional criminal law processes with respect to those over juvenile court age but under twenty-one years of age, and in a few instances the modifications have extended to those two or three years older. Although the entire process of corrections from the time of arrest to the point of ultimate freedom logically should be considered as a continuum, the changes that have been made thus far have appeared separately, in the courts and in institutional treatment.
Specialized courts for youth have been developed in some jurisdictions under various names such as "boys' court," "way ward minors' court," "youthful offenders' court," and "adolescents' court. " These have pioneered in what, for lack of a better term, might be called quasi-criminal methods of dealing with older juveniles who offend against the law.
In addition, the "youth authority movement," which is not very well understood in some quarters, modifies the disposition powers of the court by requiring commitment to a central authority rather than to a specific institution, and at the same time places upon the authority the responsibility for developing what is supposed to be an integrated program of institutional and other facilities designed for the individualized treatment of those committed. (Wiley B. Sanders, 1970) The courts for youthful offenders and the youth authority movement require somewhat detailed consideration.
Both are important because to a certain extent they represent a break with the traditional methods of dealing with youthful offenders and because there is increasing interest in the specialized handling of this very difficult group. To provide adequate correctional measures is a complex task and a difficult challenge. All that has been said about the nature and causes of delinquency and the difficult problems of developing adequate treatment programs for delinquents applies with equal if not greater force to the older youthful offender.
From the standpoint of society, he is generally a more dangerous person and a more complex one. While youthful offenders are not simply "grown-up delinquents," they are often "graduates" of specialized treatment facilities designed for delinquents; they have been in juvenile court, often not once but many times; and many of them have been in training schools, sometimes more than once. Most important of all is the disturbing fact that they contribute far more than their proportionate share to the crime problem.
Brenda Geiger, Michael Fischer, 1995. Family, Justice, and Delinquency; Greenwood Press Don Weatherburn, Bronwyn Lind, 2000. Delinquent-Prone Communities; Cambridge University Press Lowell Juilliard Carr, 1941. Delinquency Control (New York: Harper & Brothers, p. 59. Maureen P. Duffy, Scott Edward Gillig, 2004. Teen Gangs: A Global View; Greenwood Press Nanette J. Davis, 1999. Youth Crisis: Growing Up in the High-Risk Society; Praeger Publishers