Chapter 1 -Delinquency and Juvenile Justice in Historical Perspective

 The “Invention of Childhood” 

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”

Function of Public Schools

Capitalism and Schools

History of Juvenile Justice 

The First Known Juvenile Prison in Rome, 1704 - Papal Prison of St. Michael; Related to the Catholic Church – importance of religion again

For illustrations see this:

Scholarly article by Thorsten Sellin:


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.”  

An interesting illustration of child convicts during this era:

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.

The Congregate System -

 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” 

Photos of juvenile institutions


The Child Saving Movement and the Juvenile Court 

Jane Addams -a leading child saver:

Tenements - typical housing for the poor

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

Juvenile Court Act -

Ben Lindsey - Juvenile Court of Denver:


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 (see chapter 11) Represented the ideal Juvenile Court Judge

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.)