15 to Life

PBS Premiere: Aug. 4, 2014Check the broadcast schedule »

In Context

The juvenile justice system in the United States was built on the idea that an individual's ability to understand right and wrong, as well as the consequences of his or her decisions, is not completely formed until adulthood, when psychological and physiological capacities are fully developed. The first juvenile court in the United States was established in 1899 in Cook County, Illinois, as a less punitive and more rehabilitative alternative for youth. Within 30 years, nearly every state in the United States had created a similar system under which the state would be expected to follow the doctrine of parens patriae, or "state as parent," meaning that disciplinary measures should reform an individual in a way that would deter him or her from future criminal involvement. Juvenile courts are "civil" in nature, meaning that attention is focused on the individual who committed the crime; this differentiates the system from the "criminal" nature of the adult justice system, which focuses more on the crimes themselves. In 1974, the U.S. Congress enacted the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which provides funding to states to carry out federal protections regarding the care and treatment of youth in the juvenile justice system.


» Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.