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How we manage juveniles in the U.S. criminal justice system is a complicated issue fraught with political, social and economic ramifications. The system has also seen many changes over the years, fluctuating from less severe to more severe and then back again in many states.

What does the juvenile justice system look like today? And how could this potentially affect the young people in your life? Here’s what to know.

Historical Background

The first juvenile court was established in 1899 in Illinois, and by 1920 every state had separate courts for juveniles and adults. The early courts focused on rehabilitation, treatment and education. Until a Supreme Court decision in 1967, this was mostly an informal process, with no guarantee of due process for the accused.

Jump ahead to the 1980s and ’90s, and the “tough on crime” attitude that permeated politics seeped into the juvenile justice system, as well.

Since then, younger defendants have faced stiffer penalties, including being sentenced to death or life behind bars without parole. Some of those laws are still in effect today, but steps have been taken to strike down several of them.

What You and Your Family Should Know

Juvenile defendants have many of the same rights as adults: the right to due process, including confronting witnesses and hiring an attorney; the right to have the charges against them proven beyond a reasonable doubt; and protection against double jeopardy.

Juveniles, however, are not entitled to jury trials, but some states do allow for them.

Additional rights for younger defendants include the right to an education while behind bars and potentially having their hearings and records remain confidential.

If you have any questions about navigating the juvenile courts, please reach out for assistance.

Understanding Juvenile Rights in the US

If you have questions about your case, please contact us at or (253) 236-4079.

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