September 01, 2015 Criminal Justice

Are We Criminalizing Adolescence?

Jay D. Blitzman

We now know, as the founders of the juvenile court system intuited at the dawn of the twentieth century, that children are not little adults. Youth are accountable, but in a constitutional sense they are different than adults. Practitioners across the country are considering the implications of the message of proportional sanctioning and sentencing in a variety of contexts, including zero tolerance in schools, capacity to form mens rea, mandatory transfer, and collateral consequences. However, this landscape has been complicated by a disturbing and counterintuitive narrative: the recriminalization of status offense conduct (e.g., not attending school, running away from home, violating curfew) that was decriminalized in the aftermath of In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967), and the enactment of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) in 1974.

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