have been less successful with their rehabilitative goals. Schlossman (1983:965) noted that the following broad generalizations could be made of early 20th century juvenile courts:

First, the clientele was overwhelmingly from the lower class and of immigrant parents. Second, boys and girls appeared in court for different reasons, and the courts disposed of their cases differently. The majority of girls, as compared to a very small proportion of boys, were charged under the loose heading of “immorality;” however, higher percentages of girls than boys were sent to reformatories, whereas lower percentages were placed on probation. Third, referral to court by agents other than the police, especially parents, relatives, and neighbors, was a far more common practice than it is today. Fourth, juvenile courts, particularly the probation staffs, often dealt with nearly as many cases “unofficially” (without court appearance) as officially. This placed added burdens on already large case loads and widened the net of the court to embrace every conceivable form of nonconventional behavior.

A case study of the Milwaukee juvenile court in the early 20th century (Schlossman, 1977) found that probation officers had over 200 cases, far too many for the individualized services envisioned by the Progressive Era reformers. The detention center lacked any serious diagnostic function and was sometimes used punitively. The court hearings, rather than relying on “empathy, trust, and a spirit of rapprochement” (Schlossman, 1983:966) as called for by Denver's Judge Ben Lindsey, resorted to “fear, threats, and short-term detention to render children malleable” (Schlossman, 1983:966).

As early as the 1910s, criticisms of the juvenile court's fairness and effectiveness began to be heard. One set of critics called into question the court's informality, charging that it resulted in discrimination and lack of attention to due process. Furthermore, the court treated children who had committed no crime the same as those who had committed a criminal act. Unlike adults, juveniles could be detained and incarcerated without a trial, a lawyer, or even being made aware of the charges against them. Another set of critics charged the court with being too lenient on young offenders. These same criticisms continue today (Dawson, 1990; Feld, 1997).

Three Supreme Court decisions in the second half of the 20th century resulted in more procedural formality in the juvenile court, but other decisions maintained differences between juvenile and criminal courts. In 1966, in Kent v. the United States, the Court concluded that Morris Kent was denied due process rights when his case was transferred to criminal court without a hearing and without giving his attorney access to the social information on which the juvenile court judge based his decision.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement