juvenile justice

Juvenile justice is the area of criminal law applicable to persons not old enough to be held fully responsible for criminal acts. In most states, the age for adult criminal culpability is set at 18. In cases of extreme violence or other anti-social behavior, the age a child can be charged as an adult is lowered. Juvenile law is mainly governed by state law and most states have enacted a juvenile code. 

State Jurisdiction

State statutes creating juvenile courts and providing methods for dealing with juvenile delinquency have generally been upheld by courts as an acceptable extension of state police power to ensure the safety and welfare of children. The doctrine of parens patriae authorizes the state to legislate for the protection, care, custody, and maintenance of children within its jurisdiction.

Juveniles can be transferred into adult court if the juvenile court waives or relinquishes its jurisdiction.

Federal Standards

At the federal level, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDP)  is the main federal statute relating to juvenile justice. JJDP assists states and local communities in providing community-based services to juveniles in danger of becoming delinquent, helps to train individuals in occupations providing such services, and provides technical assistance in the field. Because juvenile justice is generally considered to be within state police power, the role of the federal government is limited.

See also: In re Gault (1967)

[Last updated in July of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]