In 1996, nearly 100 years after the birth of the juvenile court system, juvenile justice in the United States had arrived at a crossroads. Juvenile crime and violence had risen steadily in the preceding decade, and news reports of heinous crimes by ever younger offenders had spurred public fears about a generation of juvenile "super predators." National, State, and local legislators and policymakers were urged to "get tough" on juvenile crime, and many States began to take a second look at their juvenile justice systems, which appeared too lenient to some and ineffectual to many. At the national level, Congress was grappling with the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. The very existence of a separate juvenile justice system seemed at stake, not just the direction that effective reform efforts should take.
It was in this climate that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) decided to hold a national conference on the theme of "Juvenile Justice at the Crossroads." The 3-day gathering in Baltimore, Maryland, in December 1996 was organized around 6 main themes, or tracks, with 33 workshops offered under those tracks. Conference participants also came together for six plenary sessions, where distinguished speakers, including Attorney General Janet Reno, addressed major issues facing the juvenile justice system at this crucial time.
Overall, the conference provided a thought-provoking and challenging look at a variety of juvenile justice issues of critical concern to all Americans. Some of the most effective approaches to reducing juvenile crime and violence were featured, and leading researchers in the field shared their most recent findings. What is more, young people were involved in the conference in a variety of ways, from appearances in choral groups and jazz ensembles to participation in panel discussions and plenary sessions.
This special issue of Juvenile Justice contains seven articles. Six of them are based on the workshops in each track. These articles are not meant to summarize the workshops as much as to convey a sense of the issues they addressed and some of the solutions they discussed. The seventh article distills the essence of the message of each of the plenary sessions. The information in this journal provides both a record of "Juvenile Justice at the Crossroads" and a reference tool for policymakers, community leaders, and other citizens who are working to improve the quality of life in their communities and the chances for productive, law-abiding lives for the at-risk children in their midst.
The full conference agenda and a list of speakers can be found at the end of this document. Readers who want more information about any of the programs mentioned in the following articles should contact OJJDP's Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse at 800-638-8736 or visit the OJJDP World Wide Web page at http://www.ojjdp.ncjrs.org/.