In all but extreme situations, the judicial system is set up to segregate minors from adults when they commit crimes. But this wasn’t always the case. Children as young as 7 were tried in adult courts until Illinois began a trend toward change when it implemented the first state-level juvenile judicial system in 1899 in Chicago. The rest of the country took similar steps by 1925, and the U.S. Supreme Court got involved in 1967 to establish some uniform guidelines for juvenile courts. Minors are subject to many of the same rules and have many of the same rights as adult offenders, but the juvenile justice system is different in a few ways, as well.
Juvenile detention centers are not the same as prisons. They are specific to youthful offenders and can include short lengths of stay, usually no more than 30 days. The goal is to rehabilitate, not to punish.
The Juvenile Justice System
Although they can vary by state, juvenile justice proceedings are often initiated when an arresting officer refers the matter to the juvenile court system. The system, not usually law enforcement – determines whether to dismiss the matter, press formal charges, or even to handle the matter informally in some other way, such as through counseling. Depending on the age of the offender and the nature of the crime, some minors can be tried as adults, but a 1996 study of young offenders in New York and New Jersey showed that the re-arrest rate for these minors was 29 percent higher than for those who were sent to juvenile facilities rather than adult prisons.
Juvenile Detention Center Facts
Detention centers are typically short-term facilities intended to confine youths before trial and usually for no longer than 20 to 30 days. But not all juveniles are sent to detention. Depending on the severity of their alleged crimes, they’re often permitted to remain at home under the supervision of their parents, unless and until they break the terms of what some states like Florida call “non-secure detention.”
Numbers and Statistics
Generally, the number of juveniles in residential placement has fallen over the past 10 years from 356 per 100,000 population in 1997 to just 152 per 100,000 population in 2015. Rates vary significantly by state. In Connecticut, for example, 38 juveniles per 100,000 population were housed in detention centers in 2015. In West Virginia, the comparable number was 329.
Treatment and Discipline While in Detention
All detained minors are typically screened for mental health issues upon entry and supervised by counselors or probations officers, even after their stays in juvenile detention facilities. Juveniles who act out and exhibit unacceptable or violent behavior are typically reprimanded with a version of “time out” when they’re in detention. This time might be spent in their rooms or perhaps on a chair in the corridor for limited periods, usually no more than half an hour or so.
Detention Centers Today
In recent years, the trend has become to place youths on home detention or in group homes following criminal charges, unless those charges are particularly serious. Some authorities claim that juvenile crime rates have dropped as a result of first-time offenders not being tossed into detention with more hardened juvenile lawbreakers. More than 50 detention centers nationwide were shut down by 2013.