Juvenile Crime Law

Juvenile Crime Law is a subcategory of Juvenile Law. Although a type of criminal law, juvenile crime law only deals with under-age individuals, who are treated very differently than adults in criminal law, and usually have their own courts of law.

Minors under the age of 18 years, who commit a crime, or otherwise violate established rules and statutes, are identified as juvenile delinquents, juvenile offenders, youthful offenders, or delinquent minors. Laws governing juvenile delinquency are largely enacted and regulated on a state by state basis. The doctrine of parens patriae allows the state to essentially act as parent to a youth by legislation, for the purpose of maintenance, custody, care and protection of the children within the state. Most states have enacted a juvenile code. They determine the rules in taking a minor into custody, how the juvenile may be questioned, restitution orders, conditions of supervision and more. The juvenile is considered to be a resident of the state where the person who has legal custody of the minor resides.

In several states, some minors are classified as incorrigible or status offenders when they refuse to obey their parents and/or commit acts, which while not considered criminal by adults, are prohibited due to the age of the minor offender. This includes school truancy, running away from home, curfew violations, drinking alcohol, or behaving in an unsafe or unhealthy manner.

Juvenile courts hear cases dealing with juvenile delinquents, incorrigible youth or status offenders, and issues of child neglect, abandonment or abuse (juvenile dependency cases). These courts are considered civil, not criminal and the minor is charged with committing a delinquent act, rather than a crime. When a judge determines that a minor has committed a delinquent act, he adjudges the juvenile to be a ward of the court, and is allowed broad discretion when disposing of the case. For status offenders this can include suspension of their license, paying a fine, community service and ordering counseling or specialized classes. In delinquency cases the juvenile can be ordered to complete the same things and more, such as probation, home confinement, placement in a relative’s home or in a foster or group home, and even incarceration in juvenile corrections In extreme cases the judge can send the youth to an adult jail or state prison.

In addition to specialized courts of law for juvenile offenses, they are also detained in separate facilities, usually called juvenile corrections, (and often referred to as juvie). These include short term facilities called juvenile halls or juvenile detention facilities and for longer terms, secured juvenile facilities. This corrections system includes social workers and probation officers, and the end goal is to rehabilitate the offender and deter them from repeat offenses. They strive to help the juvenile avoid a life of crime by teaching helpful and effective coping and social skills.

Historically, it was established that minors were too young to be held responsible for criminal behavior and the juvenile law system was set up to handle these offenders, with a focus on rehabilitation, not punishment. However, although still under the legal age of majority, it is becoming more and more common for a minor who commits a serious crime (such as murder), to be charged as an adult and tried in a criminal court of law. They are then no longer under the juvenile system, but enter the criminal law system. Many states have determined that children as young as 13 are now legally responsible for their repeated criminal behavior, or heinous crimes.

For additional information regarding laws regulating children's rights, visit our Children’s Rights page.

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State Juvenile Justice Information

Juvenile Crime Law - US

  • ABA - Juvenile Justice Committee

    The Criminal Justice Section has primary responsibility for the American Bar Association's work on solutions to issues involving crime, criminal law, and the administration of criminal and juvenile justice. The Section plays an active leadership role in bringing the views of the ABA to the attention of federal and state courts, Congress, and other federal and state judicial, legislative, and executive policy-making bodies. The Section also serves as a resource to its members on issues in the forefront of change in the criminal justice arena.

  • Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

    After having served the juvenile justice population for over twenty years, CJCJ has established numerous model programs with programs currently operating out of San Francisco, California. Our direct service programs demonstrate how alternatives to incarceration can be successful, not only in reducing overburdened correctional facilities, but also in reducing recidivism rates.

  • Juvenile Justice - Overview

    Juvenile justice is the area of criminal law applicable to persons not old enough to be held responsible for criminal acts. In most states, the age for criminal culpability is set at 18 years. Juvenile law is mainly governed by state law and most states have enacted a juvenile code. The main goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation rather than punishment.

  • Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act

    The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act is the single most important piece of federal legislation affecting youth in juvenile justice systems across the country. It is the primary vehicle through which the federal government sets standards for state and local juvenile justice systems, and provides direct funding for states, research, training and technical assistance, and evaluation. Since the original enactment of the JJDPA in 1974, the periodic reauthorizations have been very contentious, as the Act's opponents have sought to weaken its protections for youth, reduce prevention resources, and encourage the transfer of youth to the adult criminal justice system.

  • National Center for State Courts - Juvenile Justice and Delinquency

    The juvenile court was initiated in Chicago in 1899 and spread rapidly across the country during the first two decades of the 20th century. The juvenile court was founded on the principle of applying social-service interventions in a legal forum. Juvenile courts focus primarily on two types of children: abused, neglected, and dependent children and delinquent juveniles.

  • National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ)

    Since its founding in 1937 by a group of judges dedicated to improving the effectiveness of the nation's juvenile courts, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) has pursued a mission to improve courts and systems practice and raise awareness of the core issues that touch the lives of many of our nation's children and families.

  • National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC)

    The National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) was created in 1999 to respond to the critical need to build the capacity of the juvenile defense bar and to improve access to counsel and quality of representation for children in the justice system. In 2005, the National Juvenile Defender Center separated from the American Bar Association to become an independent organization. NJDC gives juvenile defense attorneys a more permanent capacity to address practice issues, improve advocacy skills, build partnerships, exchange information, and participate in the national debate over juvenile crime.

  • Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)

    The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) provides national leadership, coordination, and resources to prevent and respond to juvenile delinquency and victimization. OJJDP supports states and communities in their efforts to develop and implement effective and coordinated prevention and intervention programs and to improve the juvenile justice system so that it protects public safety, holds offenders accountable, and provides treatment and rehabilitative services tailored to the needs of juveniles and their families.

Organizations Related to Juvenile Crime Law

  • Act 4 Juvenile Justice

    ACT 4 Juvenile Justice (ACT4JJ) is a campaign of the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition composed of juvenile justice, child welfare and youth development organizations exploring opportunities related to the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which is overdue for reauthorization.

  • Campaign for Youth Justice

    Every state has laws that require some youth to be prosecuted in adult criminal court. These laws, combined with other statutes, are putting thousands of young people at risk of facing harmful and irreversible consequences, often for minor mistakes. Some researchers estimate that as many as 200,000 youth are prosecuted as adults every year. Despite overwhelming research demonstrating that these policies have failed, statutes that prosecute youth in the adult criminal justice system remain on the books.

  • Child Welfare League of America

    CWLA is a powerful coalition of hundreds of private and public agencies serving vulnerable children and families since 1920. Our expertise, leadership and innovation on policies, programs, and practices help improve the lives of millions of children in all 50 states. Our impact is felt worldwide.

  • Children's Defense Fund

    The Children's Defense Fund Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

  • Children’s Law and Policy (CCLP)

    The Center for Children’s Law and Policy (CCLP) is a public interest law and policy organization focused on reform of juvenile justice and other systems that affect troubled and at-risk children, and protection of the rights of children in those systems. The Center’s work covers a range of activities including research, writing, public education, media advocacy, training, technical assistance, administrative and legislative advocacy, and litigation.

  • Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ)

    The Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) is a national nonprofit association representing governor-appointed advisory groups on juvenile justice from the U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia. Beginning in 2005, CJJ is also the proud host and sponsor of the growing National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN).

  • Human Rights Watch - Juvenile Justice

    Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world. We stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice. We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable. We challenge governments and those who hold power to end abusive practices and respect international human rights law. We enlist the public and the international community to support the cause of human rights for all.

  • National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ)

    The National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ) is the oldest juvenile justice research organization in the United States, having conducted national and sub national studies on crime and delinquency since 1973. NCJJ's success for the past 36 years has been predicated on a sound understanding of empirical research within a sophisticated yet practical sensitivity to the context of practitioner settings. This unique blend of professional skill and practical experience produces scientifically-rigorous work that can be practically understood and used for improving implementation practices and the outcomes they hope to achieve.

  • National Juvenile Justice Network

    The National Juvenile Justice Network enhances the ability of statewide juvenile justice coalitions to advocate for fair, equitable and developmentally appropriate adjudication and treatment for all youth and families involved in the juvenile justice system.

  • National Youth Rights Association

    The National Youth Rights Association is the nation’s premier youth rights organization. NYRA is a youth-led national non-profit organization dedicated to fighting for the civil rights and liberties of young people. In the grand tradition of the civil rights movements in the past, we seek to write a new chapter, and create a world where people are not judged by their birth date, but by the content of their character.

  • Prevent Delinquency Project

    The Prevent Delinquency Project is a group of dedicated volunteers who subscribe to one simple notion - that the majority of juvenile delinquency cases are preventable, through the implementation of proactive parenting techniques. Unfortunately, many parents, despite being well-intentioned, don't adequately supervise and guide their children towards leading healthy, happy, and productive lives. And those that do, often lack an understanding of the threats their children face until it is too late. The goal of the Prevent Delinquency Project is to assist parents in improving their knowledge in each of these areas, so that they will be in a better position to safeguard their children from harm, and intervene at the first sign that trouble exists.

Publications Related to Juvenile Crime Law

  • BJS - Juvenile Delinquents in the Federal Criminal Justice System

    Describes juvenile offenders processed in the Federal criminal justice system, including the number of juveniles charged with acts of delinquency, the offenses for which they were charged, the proportion adjudicated delinquent, and the sanctions imposed. Few juveniles are adjudicated in the Federal criminal justice system.

  • National Juvenile Information Sharing Initiative (NJISI)

    The purpose of the National JIS Initiative (NJISI) is to improve procedures and policies of information sharing across state and local agencies, and with youth and juvenile services within communities.

  • Urban Institute - Children and Youth

    The well-being of children and youth is a central Urban Institute research topic. Our work spans child development at the youngest ages to the needs of teenagers aging out of foster care. We study child care, child welfare, juvenile justice, and children's health and education.

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