a person in orange shirt with tattooed arms

Early Developments in Juvenile Justice

A history of the development of various juvenile justice facilities will be conducted in this post. Understanding the development of how leaders have addressed crime by young people will help current practitioners and educators to learn the lessons of the past.

Brief History

For most of human history, children were held to the same standard of behavior as adults. This was especially true if a child survived infancy and reached age 5 or 6. The reasons are severalfold. For example, there was a great deal of infanticide in some cultures in the past because of the burden of child-rearing. Abandonment was another strategy parents used to get rid of children. Parents would leave their baby at a hospital or church. At this time, killing a baby was acceptable.


Once a child reached the age of 5 or 6 and began to lose their baby teeth, they would be viewed as little adults. Children from lower-class families would enter trades as apprentices. As they grew, sometimes children made mistakes with the law. If this happened, children had no special consideration and were held to the same laws and punishments as adults. The idea of childhood emerged in the 16th or 17th century.

Institutions for Juveniles

With the rise in the view that adults and children are different came the idea that youths need to be dealt with separately from the adult population of criminals. For example, London developed the Bridewell Institution in 1555 to address children beggers. At this institution, students were trained in developing skills they could use once released. The motivation was that youths needed a change in their environment to change their behavior.

The next major step in developing institutions for juveniles was houses of refuge. These were established in the United States in the 1820s. The goal was to pull kids out of a negative crime environment into a positive environment for them. Kids were given apprenticeships as a way to develop job skills.

Despite the attempts of the houses, there were problems. Kids were abused in their apprenticeships. There was constant overcrowding. Lastly, these institutions developed spaces to keep adult and juvenile offenders. Mixing populations is generally frowned upon.

In response to the problems at Bridewell, Massachusetts opened the Lyman School for Boys around 1848. The main innovation of this group was the abolishment of mixing adults and children in the same population. The motivation behind this was again to avoid mixing the populations.

By the mid-1800s, new ideas began to emerge. One example is the cottage. The idea was to place juveniles with surrogate parents in the countryside. This experience was meant to copy the traditional family life with the same ideas of love ad discipline. With time these cottages became overcrowded as the delinquent population grew.

Around the same time (1840’s), probation developed. Probation served as a way to collect information on youth and to provide alternative ways to help youths. Originally, probation was developed for adults but was adopted by juvenile justice to help young people.


One lesson that can be gleaned from this article is that the problems continue to be the same. Crime, overcrowding, and supporting youths are all problems one finds today. Therefore, looking at the past will often reveal today’s problems.

Leave a Reply