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Juveniled Justice System Structure & Process
Organization & Administration of Delinquency Services
Q: How do states define the purpose of their juvenile courts?
A: There is considerable variation in the way states define the purposes of their juvenile courts. 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.

Purpose Clauses for Juvenile Courts, 2012

State Balanced and
Restorative Justice
Standard Juvenile Court Act Legislative Guide Emphasis on Punishment, Deterrence,
Accountability, and/or Public Safety
Child Welfare

Number of states 21 20 11 6 5

Alabama X
Alaska X
Arizona X

Arkansas X X
California X X
Colorado X

Connecticut X
Delaware X
District of Columbia X

Florida X X
Georgia X
Hawaii X

Idaho X
Illinois X X
Indiana X

Iowa X
Kansas X
Kentucky X

Louisiana X
Maine X X
Maryland X

Massachusetts X X
Michigan X
Minnesota X X

Mississippi X
Missouri X
Montana X X

Nebraska X
Nevada X
New Hampshire X

New Jersey X X X
New Mexico X
New York X

North Carolina X
North Dakota X
Ohio X

Oklahoma X
Oregon X
Pennsylvania X

Rhode Island X
South Carolina X
South Dakota X

Tennessee X
Texas X X
Utah X

Vermont X
Virginia X
Washington X

West Virginia X
Wisconsin X
Wyoming X X

  • The juvenile court purpose clause in at least 20 states and the District of Columbia incorporates the language of the Balanced and Restorative Justice movement, which advocates that juvenile courts give balanced attention to three primary interests: public safety, individual accountability to victims and the community, and the development in offenders of those skills necessary to live law-abiding and productive lives.
  • The purpose clauses in at least 20 states appear to be influenced by the Standard Juvenile Court Act. The purpose of this Act, originally issued in 1925 and subsequently revised numerous times, was that “each child coming within the jurisdiction of the court shall receive…the care, guidance, and control that will conduce to his welfare and the best interest of the state, and that when he is removed from the control of his parents the court shall secure for him care as nearly as possible equivalent to that which they should have given him.”
  • Other states use all or most of a more elaborate, multi-part purpose clause contained in the Legislative Guide for Drafting Family and Juvenile Court Acts, a publication issued by the Children’s Bureau in the late 1960s. The Legislative Guide’s opening section declares four purposes:(a) to provide for the care, protection, and wholesome mental and physical development of children involved with the juvenile court; (b) to remove from children committing delinquent acts the consequences of criminal behavior, and to substitute therefore a program of supervision, care, and rehabilitation; (c) to remove a child from the home only when necessary for his welfare or in the interests of public safety; (d) to assure all parties their constitutional and other legal rights.
  • Purpose clauses in 6 states can be loosely characterized as “tough,” in that they stress community protection, offender accountability, crime reduction through deterrence, or outright punishment, either predominantly or exclusively.
  • Statutory language in 5 states emphasizes the promotion of the welfare and best interests of the juvenile as the sole or primary purpose of the juvenile court system.

Internet citation: OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Online. Available: http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/structure_process/qa04205.asp?qaDate=2012. Released on August 05, 2013.


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