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Juveniled Justice System Structure & Process
Organization & Administration of Delinquency Services
Q: How do states define the purpose of their juvenile justice system?
A: There is considerable variation in the way states define the purpose of their juvenile justice system. Some declare their goals and objectives in exhaustive detail; others mention only the broadest of aims. Often more than one philosophy influences a single state's purpose clause.
Note: Table information is as of the end of the 2019 legislative session.

[ Text only ]

    Purpose clauses are usually written in statute to clarify the intention of the legislature for the state’s juvenile justice system, as this area of law is complex and can be ambiguous. Most states have an overall purpose clause for juvenile court and some have additional clauses by adjudication category or for the juvenile justice agency.

    Purpose clauses tend to evolve along with larger juvenile justice paradigm shifts as priorities, knowledge, and national trends emerge. Purpose clauses are also influenced by court cases, new laws, and model legislation or reforms drafted by national experts during periods of collective change. Some states advance juvenile justice purpose clauses along this continuum and others mostly reflect principles of a prior reform cycle. The categories below are presented in an order to reflect the linear historical progression of purpose clauses, from Parens Patriae to the Developmental Approach.

    No clause: No juvenile court purpose clause is defined in statute.

    Parens patriae: This Latin phrase means "father of the nation" and applies to clauses that reflect the juvenile court judge’s earliest role as the state’s designated protector of children.

    Due process era: Refers to the reform period of the 1960's & 70's where federal laws, model acts, and Supreme Court cases influenced the addition of due process procedures.

    Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ): Refers to states that incorporate BARJ, a model of reform released in the early 1990's on the heels of the most punitive era of juvenile justice.

    Developmental Approach: These states retain elements of prior categories, but have purpose clauses that mention the use of adolescent development or other research or data to assist the juvenile justice system, or requires the use of evidence based practices.

Internet citation: OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Online. Available: https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/structure_process/qa04205.asp?qaDate=2019. Released on April 18, 2022.


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