What is the current situation with youth in residential placement?

Juvenile Aftercare

When juveniles have completed a specified period of time in a residential setting, they usually are considered for release by a juvenile paroling authority. If selected, the youth undergo a period of supervision under an appropriate state or community agency. In the adult system, this is referred to as parole; in the juvenile system, it is called aftercare. In 2006, there were 95,000 juveniles on aftercare in various state jurisdictions (American Correctional Association, 2007).


The juvenile justice system is an integrated network of agencies, institutions, and organizations that process juvenile offenders. Its essential components are law enforcement, prosecution and the courts, community and institutional corrections, and aftercare. Considerable diversity exists among states in the structure and operations of the juvenile justice system. State statutes stipulate the maximum age limits for youth used by juvenile courts. The most common maximum age for juvenile court jurisdiction is 17, although maximum age limits of 18, 16, and 15 are found in some states. Lower age limits also vary, with some juvenile courts having no lower age limits. Children under age seven are generally considered to be incapable of formulating criminal intent and are treated by one or more community agencies rather than juvenile courts.

Delinquency is any act committed by a juvenile that would be a crime if committed by an adult. Any criminal act committed by someone who has not reached the age of majority would also define delinquency. A status offense is any act committed by a juvenile that would not be a crime if committed by an adult. Common status offenses include runaway behavior, curfew violation, incorrigibility, and truancy. Several policies have been established to differentiate between status and delinquent offenders. The JJDPA of 1974 was designed to remove status offenders from secure institutions where more hard-core delinquent offenders might be housed. This was called the DSO. The general meaning of DSO is the deinstitutionalization of status offenders from institutions, diverting dependent and neglected children to social services, and divestiture of jurisdiction by juvenile courts over status offenders.

The traditional orientation of juvenile courts has been characterized by the philosophy of parens patriae. This perspective vests juvenile courts with individualized sanctioning powers intended to treat rather than punish youth. During the last 40 years, juvenile courts have become increasingly adversarial, resembling criminal courts. Presently, juvenile courts are due process bodies, influenced significantly by the get-tough movement that espouses more punishment-centered sanctions for juveniles. Despite this get-tough stance, juvenile court judges exhibit philosophical principles that guide their decision making about youth. Judges attempt to balance the aims of due process and justice with individualized treatments and therapies intended to rehabilitate and reintegrate youthful offenders.

The juvenile justice system and the criminal justice system parallel one another in several respects. Juveniles suspected of committing delinquent acts are taken into custody or arrested. Youth are referred to juvenile court by police, school authorities, social service agencies, or parents. These referrals are made whenever juveniles are believed to have violated one or more laws. More than half of all juvenile cases are petitioned; a petition is a formal document seeking a hearing for the juvenile in a juvenile court. An adjudicatory hearing is a formal court proceeding much like a criminal trial. Judges usually impose dispositions on juveniles who have been adjudicated. These include nominal dispositions or verbal warnings, conditional dispositions or probation, and custodial dispositions, which may involve incarceration.

Various dispositions are available to juvenile court judges that parallel some of the punishments available for criminal offenders, including probation. Community-based sanctions include probation, intensive supervised probation, home confinement, electronic monitoring, community service, restitution, fines, day reporting programs, and/or placement in a halfway house. Other dispositions may include placement in a secure facility. Once juveniles have served a portion of their disposition in these facilities, they may be released under supervision or aftercare. Juvenile aftercare is much like adult parole in that it is community-based and conditional.

Key Terms

  • juvenile justice system, 3
  • criminal justice, 3
  • law enforcement agencies, 3
  • law enforcement, 3
  • prosecution and the courts, 3
  • juvenile offenders, 4
  • jurisdiction, 4
  • parens patriae, 5
  • get-tough movement, 6
  • juvenile delinquent, 7
  • delinquent child, 7
  • juvenile delinquency, 7
  • status offenses, 10
  • runaways, 10
  • truants, 12
  • truancy courts, 12
  • curfew violators, 13
  • stigmas, 14
  • stigmatization, 14
  • Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJPDA) of 1974, 14
  • Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), 14
  • deinstitutionalization of status offenses (DSO), 15
  • disproportionate minority confinement (DMC), 15
  • disproportionate minority contact, 16
  • deinstitutionalization, 16
  • dependent and neglected children, 17
  • net-widening, 17
  • relabeling, 17
  • convictions, 18
  • adversarial proceedings, 18
  • courts of record, 19
  • court reporters, 19
  • standard of proof, 19
  • beyond a reasonable doubt, 19
  • preponderance of the evidence, 19
  • taken into custody, 20
  • jail removal initiative, 21
  • jails, 22
  • lockups, 22
  • preventive detention, 22
  • pretrial detention, 22
  • preventive pretrial detention, 22
  • referrals, 24
  • petition, 24
  • intake officer, 25
  • intake, 25
  • screening, 25
  • intake hearings, 25
  • intake screenings, 25
  • adjudication hearing, 29
  • adjudicatory hearing, 29
  • adjudication, 29
  • dispose, 30
  • dispositions, 30
  • nominal dispositions, 30
  • conditional dispositions, 31
  • restorative justice, 31
  • custodial dispositions, 32
  • nonsecure custody, 32
  • nonsecure confinement, 32
  • secure custody, 32
  • secure confinement, 32
  • hard time, 33
  • aftercare, 33

Questions for Review

1. What are the principal components of the juvenile justice system? Why do some view juvenile justice as a process rather than a system?


2. Why is there a general lack of uniformity among juvenile courts in the United States?


3. What is the age range for juvenile courts in the United States? Which factors make it difficult to provide a consistent definition of this age range among states? Explain.


4. What is the doctrine of parens patriae? What are its origins? Does parens patriaecontinue to influence juvenile courts today? Why, or why not?


5. What is the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974? What are its implications for juveniles?


6. What is meant by DSO? What are some of its outcomes for juvenile offenders?


7. What is the current situation with youth in residential placement?


8. What are some major differences between juvenile and criminal courts?


9. What are dispositions? How do they resemble sentences for adult criminals? What are three types of dispositions? Define and give an example of each.


10. Distinguish between juvenile probation and aftercare. What is the difference between secure confinement and nonsecure confinement?


11. Are juvenile courts primarily treatment-centered or punishment-centered? What is the get-tough movement, and what are some reasons for its existence?

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