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History of Juvenile Justice System

Juvenile Justice in the United States

From an historical perspective, the concept of having a separate legal framework for juvenile offenders is relatively new. Throughout history, children as young as 7 years old who were accused of wrongdoing were imprisoned with adults. In the early nineteenth century, the idea of reforming youth offenders took root in the United States.&The House of Refuge in New York, which opened in 1824, was the first juvenile house of reform in the United States. This was the first attempt to house juvenile offenders in a separate facility and other States, like Maryland, would soon follow suit.

Supported by emerging research and science regarding child development in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, reformers across the country championed the cause of not punishing youthful offenders like adults but, rather, rehabilitating them.

In 1899, Cook County in the State of Illinois established the first juvenile court. Within 30 years, virtually all of the states had established juvenile courts.

The primary difference between juvenile courts and adult courts was that the juvenile courts were "civil" in nature while adult courts were "criminal." The benefit of a "civil" proceeding was that the courts could focus on the youth, rather than the alleged offense, and have a range of options geared towards the youth's rehabilitation. The legal doctrine of "parens patriae" formed the foundation of juvenile courts and meant that the State was given the authority to make decisions for the benefit of the child as a parent would. The doctrine of "parens patriae" continues to the present time in the juvenile justice system as well as in schools.

Until the late 1960's, youth in the juvenile court system did not have constitutional legal rights. That changed with the U.S. Supreme Court's 1967 decision in In re Gault. In that case, the Supreme Court concluded that even though juvenile courts were civil proceedings, juveniles subject to these proceedings still faced a potential loss of liberty. For that reason, the Supreme Court required that all youth offenders involved in juvenile court proceedings and facing possible confinement have the following constitutional rights:

  • The right to receive notice of charges
  • The right to obtain legal counsel
  • The right to confrontation and cross-examination
  • The privilege against self-incrimination
  • The right to receive a transcript of the proceedings, and
  • The right to have an appellate court review the lower court's decision.

On the heels of the In re Gault decision, the U.S. Congress passed the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act in 1968. That Act required states to develop plans designed to address and curb juvenile delinquency in the community in order to receive federal funding.

As a follow-up, Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in 1974 that added further protections for youth in the juvenile justice system in the U.S. Specifically, the Act and its subsequent amendments required that (1) youth offenders were to have "sight and sound separation" from adult offenders to prevent any contact between the two groups; (2) youth who have committed "status" offenses (i.e. curfew, truancy, alcohol possession, etc.) could not be placed in a juvenile or adult detention facility; (3) youth could not be detained in adult jails unless certain requirements were met; and (4) states create plans to reduce the number of minority youth (i.e. "disproportionate minority contact") in the juvenile justice system.

The Act also created the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which is now a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and the National Institute for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency.

In the 1980's and 1990's, juvenile crime across the nation rose dramatically. In response, states across the U.S., including Maryland, enacted laws that required law enforcement and the courts to automatically charge youth as adults if they were alleged to have committed certain violent crimes and weapons offenses.

While the "tough on crime" laws of the 1980's and 1990's remain in effect, there has been a renewed effort in the first decade of the new century to focus on deinstitutionalizing juvenile offenders and addressing their needs through smaller facility-based settings or community-based treatment. This renewed emphasis on rehabilitation of even the most difficult youth in the juvenile justice system is in keeping with the 100 year old mission and purpose of the modern juvenile justice system.

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Juvenile Justice in Maryland

The origins of juvenile justice in Maryland can be traced back hundreds of years to early colonial times when children were jailed with adults when their only "crime" may have been homelessness. The role of today's Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) stems from the nineteenth century when Maryland first established institutions to reform delinquent youth. In 1830, the State adopted the radical policy of separating juvenile delinquents from adult criminals. The Legislature passed "An Act to Establish a House of Refuge for Juvenile Delinquents" creating for the first time an authority to provide troubled children with homes, education and job training.

House of Refuge-The First Facility Established in Maryland for Juveniles

The concept of the House of Refuge did not become a physical reality until 1850. After 20 years of virtually no progress since the passage of the1830 statute, the Managers of the House of Refuge reorganized themselves, and laid the cornerstone of the building on October 27, 1851 (First Annual Report 1851).   Funding remained a problem, so building proceeded slower than anticipated. But by 1854, the Managers anticipated being ready to admit 300 juvenile wards as early as May or June 1855 (Third Annual Report 1853).  The House of Refuge became operational in December 1855 and was located on Frederick Avenue in Baltimore City.   The House of Refuge was re-named “Maryland School for Boys” in 1910.  A year later, the facility was then shuttered and the operations were re-located to the site where the Charles H. Hickey, Jr. School currently stands near Loch Raven.

Early Facilities

Between 1850 and 1882, Maryland built four facilities for young people. These four "reform schools" were governed by private boards and segregated by race and sex. All four were eventually organized as training schools and brought under one central administration.

In the 1920’s, the mission of one of the Maryland reform schools was "to educate and reform boys who are committed as street beggars, vagrants, incorrigible, criminal or who are placed here by parents, guardians or friends."  Currently, youth are no longer committed to juvenile detention facilities because they are poor; they are not segregated by skin color; nor can they be dropped off by a parent or friend.

In 1922, the State Department of Education took over the operation of the training schools. In 1943, however, the operation of juvenile facilities in Maryland was under the authority of the State Department of Public Works.

Evolution of an Independent Agency

The Department of Juvenile Services as it is known today came into official existence in 1967. At that time, the Department was charged with running Maryland’s children’s centers and boys’ forestry camps.  In 1969, the agency was re-organized under the authority of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as the Juvenile Services Administration (JSA). The JSA was charged with the administration of all schools, youth detention centers, forestry camps and probation/aftercare programs.

In 1987, JSA became an independent agency, and by 1989, was re-named the Department of Juvenile Services and restructured as a "cabinet-level" department.

The Department of Juvenile Services has evolved from a system that primarily provided care in facilities to a comprehensive service delivery system that focuses on treatment in the community as well as secure facilities and programs. DJS provides a range of programs and services designed to address the needs of the diverse population served.

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