In the early 19th century, Boston mayor Josiah Quincy recognized that juveniles did not need to be punished the same as adult offenders. This was the genesis of the separation of juvenile justice as a distinct entity within the justice system. In the modern American justice system, juvenile court oversees the majority of offenses committed by those under the age of 18, although 44 states trial juveniles as adults for serious offenses, such as murder or gang-activity.
Juvenile courts were established in the early years of the 20h century, aimed at treating, rather than punishing juvenile offenders. At the time, the leading theories of juvenile justice were that their parents had failed such children. This was the Progressive Era, when ideas such as juvenile justice, along with child labor laws, defined childhood as a separate period of life. Juvenile hearings, which were frequently closed to the public, focused on the history of the offender, rather than the offense itself. Many judges personally tailored juvenile justice sentences to the child, rather than impose blanket sentences, such as life in prison.
America’s juvenile justice system became a model throughout the rest of the world. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that juveniles deserved the same due process as adults. However, with a rise in juvenile crime in the 1980s, the juvenile justice system perverted, often funneling young offenders into the adult criminal justice system.