(and particularly of attorneys) brought greater formality and regularity to delinquency proceedings.
It says much that these reforms were initiated by child advocates who argued that the rehabilitative model, which insistently focused on the objective of promoting children’s welfare, actually harmed youth who came before the court (Paulsen, 1957; Allen, 1964). What the liberal critics realized was that this idealistic purpose obscured a tension at the heart of the rehabilitative model. The state’s interest in responding to youth crime was more complex than the architects of the juvenile court acknowledged. When a young offender has intentionally caused social harm, the state’s announced interest in promoting his welfare is in tension with powerful if unexpressed conflicting interests in public protection and accountability (Scott and Steinberg, 2010). In criminal proceedings, it is well understood that the state’s interest is adverse to that of the defendant; it is for that reason that the Constitution requires procedural protections (Allen, 1964; Scott and Steinberg, 2010). The child advocates who challenged the informality of delinquency proceedings realized that the juvenile system’s professed mission conflicted with these more conventional purposes of criminal justice.
Had the “treatment” offered by the juvenile system been effective, the tension might have been manageable. But policy makers and elected officials were increasingly frustrated by evaluations of rehabilitative programs that failed to generate strong and consistent effects (Martinson, 1974). As Justice Fortas pointed out, 66 percent of youth referred to juvenile court were recidivists (In re Gault at 28).7 But when dispositions failed to rehabilitate young offenders, courts not surprisingly lost confidence in rehabilitation and imposed more restrictive and punitive correctional interventions. The rehabilitative model’s inherent weakness eventually became clear to those who aimed to promote the interests of children; youth adjudicated without procedural protections were at the mercy of judges who were free to punish them while claiming to act in their best interests. The procedural changes mandated by the Supreme Court in Gault and later opinions8,9 had a powerful impact on juvenile justice policy, transforming delinquency proceedings into adversarial hearings. Most importantly, juveniles after Gault have a right to be represented by attorneys, who can challenge prosecutors’ evidence and raise defenses. During the adjudicative stage of the proceeding, as in a criminal trial, the prosecutor is required to prove that the youth committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In contrast to the informal practice of the traditional court, the juvenile court judge is no
7 In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967).
8 In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970).
9 Breed v. Jones, 421 U.S. 519 (1975).