Even with the establishment of a system focused on parens patriae, opponents questioned its effectiveness in rehabilitation, particularly if juveniles were held in institutional settings not unlike adult prisons. Critics argued that if juveniles faced an institutional setting similar to that of adults, then these juveniles should also have the same constitutional due process protections as adults during the trial and sentencing phases of the adjudication. In response, several U.S. Supreme Court cases ultimately established the constitutional basis for protection of juvenile rights, including Kent v. US in 1966, In re Gault in 1967, In re Winship in 1970, and McKeiver v. Pennsylvania in 1971. These cases brought greater procedural focus to the juvenile courts, mandating due process and ensuring other constitutional rights for juvenile defendants.
With these protective gains, early policymakers next focused on prevention within local communities. Addressing rehabilitation issues and the role of the community, the focus for prevention was left to each local community. With no centralized federal, state, or local strategy to reduce delinquency, and no financial or technical support, initial efforts to control delinquency through community organizations was a relative failure, leading Congress to pass the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act in 1968. Later revised in 1974, and renamed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the goal of this act was to assist states and local communities by providing preventative, community-based services to youth in danger of becoming delinquent, to help train individuals in occupations providing such services, and to provide technical assistance in the field through the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. This initiative reinforced the importance of prevention of juvenile delinquency as a key to reducing the behavior, but it increased the role of government in providing assistance and training for the states to act in a child's best interests.
The 1970s brought a rise in violent crime rates and a new focus on cracking down on crime. The War on Drugs in the 1980s also fueled the desire to get tough on crime and create a more punitive juvenile justice system. During the 1990s, the United States faced growing fears about highly publicized juvenile acts of violent crime and school shootings, called "juvenile superpredators" by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Public fears mounted about youth who adopt a culture of violence. Despite subsequent acknowledgment that such fear was overstated, the public outcry made a lasting impression on the juvenile justice system and the way in which U.S. society addresses juvenile crime. By the end of the 1990s, almost every state had enacted a law that made it easier for a juvenile to be tried in adult court and face adult sentences by lowering ages for transfer or waivers for violent crimes. The trend toward a more conservative approach to juvenile justice continues, with the marked exception of the death penalty.
In 1988, the case of Thompson v. Oklahoma set the precedent for juvenile sentencing when the U.S. Supreme Court held that the execution of juveniles under the age of 16 was unconstitutional. As of 2002, the United States was one of only a few countries to carry out the death penalty on those under age 18. This changed in 2005 when, in Roper v. Simmons, the U.S. Supreme Court held it unconstitutional to execute any juvenile, noting in its decision that the death penalty is "disproportionate punishment" for offenders under age 18.
1) Bishop, Donna M., Charles E. Frazier, Lonn Lanza-Kaduce, and Lawrence Winner. 1996. "The Transfer of Juveniles to Criminal Court: Does It Make a Difference?" Crime & Delinquency 42:171-91.
2) Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 1999. "Juvenile Justice: A Century of Change." Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice.
3) Platt, Anthony M. 1977. The Child Savers: The Invention of Delinquency. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.4) "Power of a Court to Strike Out an Answer as Punishment for Contempt." 1910. Columbia Law Review 10(7):661-63.