Chapter 1 -Delinquency and Juvenile Justice in Historical Perspective

 The “Invention of Childhood” 

n  Once upon a time there were no “children” and no concept of “adolescence.”

n  the word “children” is no more than about 150 years old and the custom of celebrating a child’s birthday did not exist until around 1800.

n  Puberty - biological fact; childhood and adolescence is merely a social fact. 

n  There is no biological reason why, for several years after the onset of puberty young people cannot assume most adult roles.

n  Adolescence as a separate social category did not appear until the nineteenth century

n  During earlier periods (when life expectancies often went little beyond the age of forty), young adults constituted the backbone of society. 

n  Prior to this time, “infancy” ended at around seven and “adulthood” began immediately Why seven?

n  Because that is generally the age when children have command over speech and are able to understand what adults are talking about.  

n  The “family” as we know it today did not really exist in the Middle Ages. 

n  Until about the 14th century one’s “family” meant mostly a person’s “legal heredity line” with an emphasis on the “blood ancestry” rather than merely the “conjugal unit.”

n  It was literally the case that the people of this time were not conscious of “children” as a distinct social category.

n  The child never developed a heavy dependence upon his or her parents, since the typical household included all sorts of adults, not just the immediate family - there were visitors, friends, distant relatives, servants, etc.

n  There were no children’s toys, special games, nor children’s clothing (children dressed like adults).

n  All activities were shared with adults within the community.  The aim was to get them ready as soon as possible for adult life.

n  Children-valuable sources of labor for communities and families.

n  They are able to know all the secrets of the adult world, including sexual secrets. 

n  Children became exposed to all sorts of adult behavior. 

n  They were not “innocent” as we understand the term today.

n  During the Middle Ages the Catholic Church determined that the age of seven was when a person knew right from wrong and could reason.

n  There was no separate world of childhood.

n  Prior to around the 16th century there were no books on child-rearing and few about mothers in their role as mothers. 

n  Simply put, childhood ended at seven and adulthood began at once, with no intervening stages, no “adolescence” and no “teenager.” 

n  There was also no special children’s jargon.

n  One writer noted: “Of all the characteristics in which the medieval age differs from the modern, none is so striking as the comparative absence of interest in children.”  

Childhood in the 17th Century  

n  With the coming of capitalism (14th century) we saw the beginnings of the modern family. 

n  Along with this change came a new vocabulary to describe children and childhood. 

n  By the 17th century special children’s toys began to emerge along with special games for children.

n  Many began to worry about the “purity” and “innocence” of children and about their exposure to “vice.”

n  Whereas in previous ages there was almost total independence for children, there gradually became almost total dependence.

n  The school became one of the key institutions for segregating children from adults.

n  Plus the printing press, books and reading. 

n  Capitalism needed workers  and children needed to be socialized to take their place in the coming industrial order.  

n  Different stages of childhood became visible because they were segregated at schools

n  Special printed materials geared to distinct stages of learning. 

n  Separate “peer groups” and a distinctive “youth culture.”

n  “children’s jargon” emerged and books on “pediatrics.” 

n  In the Middle Ages the same name often given to different children, with a number to indicate birth order

n  By the 17th century, however, children started receiving different names.

n  “children’s literature” began to appear in the mid-18th century with the publication in 1744 of a book called “Jack the Giant Killer.” 

n  By the end of the 19th century there was “juvenile literature.”  

The Need for Social Control of Children’s “evil tendencies” 

n  Social class has a bearing here, for childhood began as a middle-class idea - middle class could afford it. 

n  It was not for another century or so when this idea filtered down to the lower classes, which is why so many children of the lower classes worked in the mines and factories.

n  The school setting required self-control, which runs counter to the natural inclinations of children. 

n  Children’s natural exuberance had to be slowed down and controlled.

n  Both schoolmasters and parents began to impose strick discipline on children. 

n  The natural inclinations of children began to be perceived not only as an impediment to book learning but as an expression of an “evil” character.  

Schools Function to Control these “evil tendencies” 

n  The school became one of the earliest developments of social control mechanisms for a group based upon age and the earliest forerunners to the modern juvenile justice system.

n  Children’s “natural inclinations” can be translated to something like “independence” - as an adult has. 

n  Thus, at one point in human history there was no need to control this age group simply because it did not exist

n  at the point where it was “created” by adult society, there followed a need for new forms of social control 

n  One form was to be public schools.  

Capitalism and Schools 

n  The most significant development during the past 500 years or so was the coming of industrial capitalism and the factory system. 

n  What the early capitalists needed more than anything else was a steady supply of cheap and compliant labor. 

n  As many scholars have noted, the public school system, especially in England and the United States, was mostly a system used to “break the will and to condition the child to routinized labor in the factory.”

n  A slight exaggeration, since most children did not yet attend these schools, especially the children of the poor who were used to keep the new factories operating.

n  Children still needed to be controlled and before schools there were special kinds of prisons for them 

History of Juvenile Justice 

The House of Refuge Movement: Social Context 

n  Tremendous growth in population, especially immigration.

n  Between 1750 and 1850 the population of the United States went from 1.25 million to 23 million.

n  The population of some states, like Massachusetts, doubled in numbers, and New York's population increased fivefold between 1790 and 1830. 

n  Many of those coming into the United States during the middle of the nineteenth century were of Irish or German background; the fourfold increase in immigrants between 1830 and 1840 was in large part a product of the economic hardships faced by the Irish during the potato famine.

n  Thousands of families jammed into tenements with many children left homeless, some of whom committed petty crimes.

n  Often the authorities blamed parents, calling them “unfit.”

n  The state needed to take control and “reform” these kids.

n  One prominent organization was the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents

n  Prevailing attitude was that these kids were of poor and abandoned parents whose “debased character and vicious habits” resulted in their being “brought up in perfect ignorance and idleness, and what is worse in street begging and pilfering.”

 Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents

n  A private group whose members were among the elite of New York City

n  They believe these kids were of poor and abandoned parents whose “debased character and vicious habits” resulted in their being “brought up in perfect ignorance and idleness….street begging and pilfering.”  

Parens Patriae  

n  This was the doctrine that originated in early English Chancery courts

n  Stipulated that the King was the “father” of the country could intervene “on behalf of” children of the wealthy whose parents died

      Sort of like an attorney would handle probate

n  Adopted in America as a rationale for state intervention into the lives of poor people

 The New York House of Refuge 

n  1824 bill established the first prison for juveniles – called a “school” by supporters.

n  The managers of this institution would do the following:

n  put them to work that would encourage industry and ingenuity

n  taught reading, writing, and arithmetic

n  carefully instructed in the nature of their moral and religious obligations

n  Subjected them “to a course of treatment, that will afford a prompt and energetic corrective of their vicious propensities, and hold out every possible inducement to reformation and good conduct.”

n  Why put them inside some “edifice”?  Where did this idea come from?

n  The idea came from religion, specifically monasteries

n  The first edifice was the St. Michael's Hospice in Rome where there was a separate area for abandoned kids

n  Emphasis on silence and obedience – to God and others in authority

n  Reformers were influenced by the panopticon design for prisons, factories, hospitals, schools and other structures

 The Reality of Houses of Refuge 

n  Most of the kids committed no crime and were Irish immigrants

n  Little schooling was provided.

n  Punishment was severe – lock and chain, hanging from thumps, bread and water, beatings, solitary confinement, etc.

n  Escapes were common.

n  Religious indoctrination (Protestant instead of Catholicism)

n  No job training

n  Very disciplined environment, so as to prepare them for factory work

n  Most finally closed in early 1900s, following numerous scandals. 

Ex Parte Crouse 

n  This was the first legal challenge to parens patriae, decided in 1838 in Penn.

n  Mary Crouse was 16 years old and charged with incorrigibility by mother

n  The complaint (charges) were as follows:

n  “that the said infant by reason of vicious conduct, has rendered her control beyond the power of the said complainant [her mother], and made it manifestly requisite that from regard to the moral and future welfare of the said infant she should be placed under the guardianship of the managers of the House of Refuge.”

n  This was taken verbatim from the Pennsylvania law establishing the house of refuge, copied exactly from the New York statute (it was copied by several states thereafter as they established houses of refuge)

n  The vagueness of the law is clear, as we cannot tell exactly what Mary did that constituted “incorrigibility”

 Ex Parte Crouse – the decision 

n  The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled as follows:

n  Bill of Rights did not apply to juveniles.

n  “May not the natural parents, when unequal to the task of education, or unworthy of it, be superseded by the parens patriae or common guardian of the community?”

n  “The infant has been snatched from a course which must have ended in confirmed depravity.”

n  The refuge “is not a prison, but a school,” and because of this, not subject to procedural constraints.

n  The court merely repeated what the founders goals were, stating that the goal was “training them to industry; by imbuing their minds with the principles of morality and religion; by furnishing them with means to earn a living; and  above all, by separating them from the corrupting influences of improper associates.”

n  Read the actual ruling here:;  

Ex Parte Crouse – the impact 

n  Parens patriae was upheld, as more refuges were opened in most states.

n  A challenge came from the state of Illinois, in the case of a boy named Danny O’Connell – People v. Turner (1870). 

People v. Turner 

n  Facts of the case virtually identical to Crouse, but the decision by the Ill. Supreme Court was the opposite, as it was based on the reality rather than the promise of the refuges.

n  The Court in this case rejected the parens patriae doctrine because they concluded that Daniel was being “imprisoned” and thus they based their reasoning on traditional legal doctrines of the criminal law.

n  This court viewed the refuge in a much more negative light, addressing its cruelty and harshness of treatment.

n  Because of the O'Connell case, only children who had committed felonies could be sent to reform schools.

n  This soon changed, however, as the “child savers” of the late 19th century figured out a way to get around the ruling.

n  Also, a subsequent case came up with a decision identical to Crouse (Commonwealth v. Fisher, 1905), thus supporting parens patriae.

 Mid-nineteenth century Reforms 

n  Compulsory school laws in Mass. In 1836

n  New York Juvenile Asylum in 1853

n  Children’s Aid Society and the “orphan trains”

n  State Reform Schools in Mass. For both boys (Boston) and girls (Lancaster)

n  Reform Farms (Ohio)

n  All based upon the “cottage” or “family plan” 

The Child Saving Movement and the Juvenile Court 

n  The child savers were a group wealthy white men and women who helped establish the juvenile court as a separate institution (1899)

      Was a method of circumventing the People v. Turner ruling

      Juvenile Court Act removed from the jurisdiction of the criminal courts all cases involving juveniles

n  Juvenile laws covered the following acts:

n  (1) violations of laws also applicable to adults (“delinquent acts”);

n  (2) violations of local ordinances;

n  (3) status offenses and dependency

      Included such vague terms as “vicious or immoral behavior,” “incorrigibility,” “profane or indecent behavior,” “growing up in idleness,” “living with any vicious or disreputable person” in addition to truancy and running away, among others


n  Juvenile court a legal institution and thus punishment oriented

n  But also a social welfare agency dedicated toward treatment and reform

n  Judge was to be a kind, benevolent father figure

n  Court would act “in the best interest of the child” 

Training schools and “rural purity” 

n  Most training schools build in the country and stressed agricultural and similar “training” (menial labor, etc.)

      Girls would learn to be housewives

n  Focus on the working and lower class

      Mostly ethnic and racial minorities

      White kids got separate treatment

n  Teaching “industry” and obedience

n  Strong support from big business 

Still an improvement – somewhat 

n  Many parents looked to the court to help them with their kids

n  In general, kids treated better than the adult system ever did

n  Nevertheless, in most cases kids are merely “processed” and needed community services lacking

 Juvenile Justice Today – racial injustice 

n  Court cases like Gault and Kent focused on the often arbitrary nature of the court and granted kids some rights

n  However, today more than  ever minorities (esp. black kids) get caught up in the worst aspects of the system

      Rates of detention and incarceration for blacks far greater than for whites (see tables and graphs in chapters 11-12)

 Into the 21st Century 

n  Get tough movement began in the 1990s culminating with “zero tolerance” policies

n  More recently, however, there has been a strong reform movement in many states, especially California (closing the old training schools, etc.)