diction (four states); and enacting mandatory minimums or sentencing guidelines for juveniles (three states). The impact of these reforms was an increase in the detention rate on any given day by more than 50 percent between 1977 and 1985.

In response to public concern over crime, in particular violent crime, committed by children and adolescents, almost all states now have made these kinds of changes to the laws governing their juvenile justice systems since the early 1990s. These changes are described following a description of the current juvenile justice system processes.


Juvenile justice systems vary greatly by jurisdiction. The organization of courts, case processing procedures, and juvenile corrections facilities are determined by state law. Most juvenile courts have jurisdiction over criminal delinquency, abuse and neglect, and status offense delinquency cases. Criminal delinquency cases are those in which a child has committed an act that would be a crime if committed by an adult. Status offense delinquency cases are acts that would be legal for an adult, but are not allowed for juveniles, such as truancy, running away, incorrigibility (i.e., habitually disobeying reasonable and lawful commands of a parent, guardian, or custodian; also referred to in various statutes as unruly, uncontrollable, or ungovernable), or curfew violations. Some courts also have responsibility for other types of cases involving children, such as dependency, termination of parental rights, juvenile traffic cases, adoption, child support, emancipation, and consent cases (e.g., consent for a minor to marry, have an abortion, enlist in the armed services, or be employed).

Before any court processes come into play, a juvenile must be referred to the court. Referrals may be made by the police, parents, schools, social service agencies, probation officers, and victims. Law enforcement agencies account for the vast majority—86 percent in 1996—of delinquency referrals (Stahl et al., 1999).3 The police are the principal gatekeepers of the justice system and play a central role in the processing of youths in both the criminal and juvenile justice systems. They have a great deal of contact with youthful offenders and at-risk youth, perhaps more than any other officials do in the justice system. Most of these contacts are undocumented and of low visibility (Goldstein, 1960); only a fraction reach the attention of juvenile court judges or youth detention authorities.


An analysis by panel member Steven Schlossman of Los Angeles juvenile court from 1920 to 1950 found that 63 percent of referrals were from police.

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