A wide variety of professionals, semiprofessionals, citizens, and volunteers participate in the juvenile justice process.
Although all participants share a general commitment to the declared goals, they rely on their own professional perspectives and values in making decisions and recommending particular actions for individual cases.
There are too many other factors involved, some of which stem from the youth’s behavior, but others originate in bureaucracy, fiscal and political issues, and cultural definitions of social problems.
This chapter aims to provide an overview of the practice of juvenile justice in the United States—that is, the patterns and variations that emerge in 50 states and the District of Columbia as well as those that characterize what is often a highly localized process.
The charges against them are reviewed for legal sufficiency, and a formalized court process may be used to establish their culpable commission of a criminal act.
If the case merits some type of intervention, other actors in the justice system attempt to match the youth with an appropriate and cost-effective program or sanction.
DEFINING JUVENILE DELINQUENCY The juvenile justice system is the combined effect of decisions and actions taken by the police, the courts, and a wide variety of human services agencies as they respond to incidents of juvenile delinquency. The answer varies from place to place and from case to case. Some illegal behaviors by underage minors are considered to be acts of delinquency; some are not.
How does one define the system that responds to cases of delinquency?
Balancing the varying perspectives and expectations of the people involved in the juvenile justice process can be difficult, contentious, and somewhat unpredictable.
Young people charged with committing similar acts of delinquency may be handled quite differently, depending on the state or county in which they live, the characteristics of their families and neighborhoods, their sex, their race or ethnicity, their demeanor, their involvement with drugs and alcohol, any mental health issues involved, and the actual harm their behavior has inflicted on individuals or the community.