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America’s juvenile justice system is experiencing another era of reform. The formal juvenile justice system originated from the ideology and methods of social reformers who viewed deviant behavior as a treatable condition and sought redemption of criminal youth. In the first era of reform, that view powered the state’s exercise of its parens patriae authority and produced a paternalistic judiciary and institutions that used custody as a means of achieving social control. Over time, changing political and social views of childhood and a growing recognition in the law of children as rights-holders shifted the system’s focus away from the rehabilitative ideal. At its extreme, this second era of reform abandoned the developmental view of youth crime in favor of a public safety orientation and resulted in a system overcorrection. The present era of juvenile justice system reform preserves the developmental approach and restores the rehabilitative ideal while striking a better balance between state interests and the rights of individual children.

This Article traces the history of the juvenile justice system and reflects on the present era of system reform. Early indications suggest that, through the use of evidence previously not available, the current era of juvenile justice system reform has the potential to restore the rehabilitative ideal on which the system was founded without compromising public safety goals or the legal rights of system-involved children. This Article specifically documents the effort, engagement, and leadership across public and private sectors to effectuate such balanced state-level reform in Georgia—the focus of this Symposium.

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Juvenile Law Commons