Stage Two: The Due Process Reforms

In the 1960s, youth advocates argued that adolescents charged with crimes were getting a bad deal from a juvenile justice system that ostensibly was designed to serve their needs (Allen, 1964). The system failed to provide young offenders with the promised treatment, but the myth of rehabilitation continued to be offered as justification for denying juveniles the procedural rights of adult criminal defendants (Paulsen, 1957; Glueck, 1964; Handler, 1965). Juveniles charged with crimes had no right to an attorney, and the informal hearings in which their guilt was determined lacked the rigorous evidentiary protections of a criminal trial; on the basis of often casual fact-finding, many youth were adjudicated delinquent and sentenced to dispositions in prisonlike facilities (Allen, 1964; Handler, 1965).

Ultimately, the Supreme Court agreed with critics that youth in the juvenile system had the worst of both worlds.5 In In re Gault, the Court extended many of the procedural rights enjoyed by criminal defendants to juveniles facing delinquency charges in juvenile court. The case of Gerry Gault represented a stark example of the deficiencies of the rehabilitative model of juvenile justice. Fifteen-year-old Gerry was accused of making lewd phone calls to his neighbor. He was brought before a juvenile court judge without notice of the charge or an attorney to defend him. The neighbor never appeared as a witness; instead, the arresting officer reported her complaint to the judge. At the end of the proceeding, the judge committed Gerry to the Arizona State Industrial School for up to six years—for a misdemeanor for which an adult would receive, at most, a $50 fine and jail term of up to 12 months. In Gerry’s case and many others, the outcome of an informal nonadversarial delinquency proceeding was a potentially severe deprivation of liberty.

The Supreme Court rejected the state’s justification for the court’s informality. Writing for the Court, Justice Abe Fortas called the proceedings a “kangaroo court” (In re Gault at 28).6 He observed that delinquent juveniles got little rehabilitation and that the high rates of recidivism among juvenile offenders showed that whatever treatment they received was ineffective. The Court in Gault held that youth in delinquency proceedings faced a serious loss of liberty and therefore were entitled to protection under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Like adult criminal defendants, juveniles have a right to counsel, a right to notice of charges, a right to confront witnesses against them, and a privilege against self-incrimination. The introduction of due process


5 In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967).

6 Ibid.

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