Youth in the system: Why juvenile justice needs reform

“Commit an adult crime, do adult time.” It sounds logical and even just, but it has produced many unintended and devastating consequences. Namely, a juvenile justice system that has harmed far more people than it has helped. And at enormous cost to society—both economically and through its failure to provide public safety.

In 1899, reformer Jane Addams helped launch the juvenile court in Chicago. The guiding doctrine was parens patriae, which inferred that the court had a responsibility to act in place of parents. The court was to tend to the distinctive developmental needs of adolescents. It was understood that with proper intervention troubled youth could be reclaimed.

Sadly, over the past several decades, record numbers of minors have been tried as adults and placed in the adult prison system.

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