Although the juvenile court is largely an American institution, the legislative recognition of the desirability of differentiating the method of trial of an adult criminal from that of a juvenile delinquent, before there was a juvenile court in the United States, was not wanting in some other countries. The systematic development of the idea of the juvenile court, however, has taken place in the United States. The various steps which led to the creation of the juvenile court began in the first half of the nineteenth century.
The idea of certain features of a juvenile court, such as that of separate confinement, separate hearings, and probation, had been influencing American jurisprudence for many years prior to the advent of the juvenile court. (Nanette J. Davis, 1999). The attention of reformers was at first directed not to the modification of court procedure and the prevention of the conviction of the child for an offense but to the idea that after conviction he should be kept in confinement apart from adult criminals.
This idea gave rise to reformatories for juvenile offenders, which existed in the United States as early as 1825 when the so-called House of Refuge was established in New York. Similar institutions were established in Pennsylvania in 1828 and in Massachusetts in 1847. Many other states followed suit and established under various names juvenile institutions to which children after conviction might be committed for correction and education. In some states the confinement of juvenile offenders in penitentiaries was definitely prohibited by law except for serious offenses.
Usually juvenile offenders might still be sent to reform schools or to city prisons or county jails at the discretion of the court and, for serious offenses, to state reformatories. As far as arrest, detention, and trial were concerned, a delinquent child was subject to almost all the criminal processes applicable to adult offenders. The treatment of juvenile delinquents is a coherent and systematic unity that has a discernible and rational conceptual framework in comparison with the situation affecting those beyond juvenile court age, usually referred to as "youthful offenders.
" To those who consider the handling of juvenile delinquents an untidy affair, the treatment of the older youthful offenders will seem like chaos unrefined and unrestrained. Allusions have been made earlier to the conflicts in public opinion reflected even in the handling by juvenile courts of older youngsters who commit more serious offenses. But those beyond juvenile court age, or removed from juvenile court jurisdiction because of the gravity of their offenses, are legally labeled youthful criminals, not children in need of the protection of the state.
For the most part, they are dealt with under criminal statutes, whether modified a great deal, or slightly, or not at all. Generally, youthful offenders are between the upper juvenile court age limit and twenty-one years of age; they may be treated simply as adults or as persons who by reason of youth are subject to some modifications in handling by the courts and, in some instances, by treatment agencies. (Don Weatherburn, Bronwyn Lind, 2000). The older juvenile offender dealt with as an adult is subject to the same general treatment given to all criminals.
When he is arrested by the police, the traditional pattern of police handling of adult criminals is employed. Normally, he is not accorded any of the protections given to juveniles; he is arrested, fingerprinted, "booked," and detained in a police lockup or jail unless released on bail. Unlike most youngsters of juvenile court age, he is subject to public exposure because his name, address, and the charge against him indicated on the "police blotter" may be published in newspapers and his picture may be used with impunity.
In other words, to all intents and purposes he is an adult, and with some exceptions, he is so regarded in the pre-trial process. Although some "leniency" may be shown by a court because of age, his status in the courts usually is governed by all the traditional criminal court practices. If found guilty, he is treated as an adult, whether placed on probation, fined, or given a short jail sentence or a longer sentence in a major penal institution.
Although his special needs as an older adolescent youth may be taken into account if he is placed on probation, which supposedly is synonymous with individualized treatment, this does not occur if he is given a brief jail term. With occasional and rare exceptions, he literally is thrown in with the rest of the prisoners and is subjected to the demoralizing, debilitating regimen characteristic of most of the jails of the country.
If convicted of a major crime, he may be sentenced to a major correctional institution for a definite or indefinite (indeterminate) term in a prison housing large numbers of prisoners of all ages and types. Prisons receive persons convicted of major crimes or felonies. Although these are defined differently from state to state, such offenses as murder, assault with intent to kill, armed robbery, burglary, auto theft, and rape are invariably felonies.
But one caution is important: the term "convicted" is crucial. For various reasons, the original charge is often reduced, for example, from burglary to petty theft, so that the conviction may be for a misdemeanor, or minor offense, usually making the misdemeanant ineligible for prison–but eligible for a jail term up to one year, which may be exceeded if fines are also imposed. As a working definition, a felony may be described as an offense punishable under law by one year or more in a state penal institution.
In some states, depending upon whether he was previously convicted of a felony, the youthful offender may be sentenced to a reformatory. A reformatory is an adult penal institution, not to be confused with a training school, sometimes referred to as a "reform school. " The latter is for youngsters who are of juvenile court age at the time of commitment and who are dealt with under juvenile court law. The reformatory normally receives prisoners convicted of felonies, and it is usually the junior counterpart of the prison.
With occasional exceptions, the reformatories receive prisoners who are between the upper age limit of juvenile court jurisdiction and a maximum age ranging from twenty-five to thirty, which is the most common age specified in the statutes establishing them. Practically, they are just like any other prisons; as a matter of fact, personal observation suggests that most reformatories are more security conscious, "tougher" as to disciplinary procedures, and more regimented and tense than the prisons, which have populations composed of older, more stable and mature offenders. (Maureen P. Duffy, Scott Edward Gillig, 2004).