Chapter 3.1 General Purposes of the ICJ and Juvenile Justice System

​​​​​​General Purposes of the ICJ and Juvenile Justice System

The general purposes of juvenile delinquency laws are to: (a) serve the best interests of the child as a ward of the state by providing care, treatment and guidance towards rehabilitation; and (b) protect public safety. In re Charles G., 9 Cal. Rptr. 3d 503, 507 (Cal. Ct. App. 2004); In re R.D.R., 876 A.2d 1009, 1013 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2005); see Kirton v. Fields, 997 So.2d 349, 353 (Fla. 2008) (suggesting that the state’s parens patriae authority extends to protection of children in transfers of juveniles in delinquency cases under the ICJ). Generally, the jurisdiction of juvenile courts involves “dependent,” “delinquent” or “neglected” children.  In many states, the term “delinquent” can be subdivided into two subcategories of youth: (a) delinquent youth; and (b) status offenders, sometimes referred to as “unruly children.” However, courts recognize the authority of the legislature to determine the class or classes of youth subject to the supervisory authority of juvenile courts. E.g., Hunt v. Wayne Circuit Judges, 105 N.W. 531, 540 (Mich. 1905).  Consequently, while juvenile courts enjoy significant discretion in making supervisory decisions in the “best interest of the child,” that discretion is frequently confined by statute. 

The ICJ is concerned primarily with runaways and supervised youth classified as either juvenile delinquents or status offenders and only to the extent that one state is transferring supervision responsibilities to another state.  It is important to understand that a related compact may ‘overlap’ with the ICJ under certain circumstances.  Most notably, ICJ often overlaps with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC), which controls interstate transfers of dependent or neglected youth.  For discussion of concerns related to both ICJ and ICPC, see infra Section 3.6.

In the context of ICJ transfers of supervision, the same two considerations that control juvenile delinquency are also considerations: (a) the best interests of the child, and (b) public safety. In relation to transfers of supervision, courts should determine whether a proposed transfer is (a) in the best interests of the juvenile, and (b) suitable.  Whether both of these considerations are to be given equal weight in the dispositional and transfer process has not been fully and finally determined by the courts.  A failure to make such findings may constitute reversible error. See In re Welfare of Z.S.T., No. A09-324, 2009 WL 4910319, at *4 (Minn. Ct. App. Dec. 22, 2009).   Contra In re J.P., 511 A.2d 210, 212-13 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1986)  (Under Interstate Compact on Juveniles, which preceded the modern Interstate Compact for Juveniles, trial court had no jurisdiction to inquire into juvenile's best interests).

For many years, trends in juvenile justice gave greater weight to the public safety aspects of the juvenile justice system. See, e.g., New Jersey in re A.S., 999 A.2d 1136 (N.J. 2010) (also note the increased emphasis being placed on punishment as a rationale underlying the juvenile justice system, as opposed to its traditional rehabilitative purposes). In recent years, “public safety” considerations have been given greater weight in determining the appropriate disposition. See, e.g., In re Ronald C., No. A128756, 2010 WL 3897760, at *2 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 6, 2010) (court did not abuse its discretion in taking into consideration probation officer’s dispositional, a guidance clinic psychological evaluation, and the gravity of the offense and public safety in fashioning the disposition); Thompson v. Maryland, 988 A.2d 1011, 1026 (Md. 2010) (one purpose of the juvenile corrections act is public and community safety).  Thus, while a receiving state cannot deny a transfer of supervision simply because of the age of the juvenile or the nature of the offense, concerns for community and public safety may be a legitimate consideration.

Recent juvenile justice efforts also recognize that community-based programs play a critical role in promoting public safety.  In a recent study conducted by the PEW Foundation examined the subject of extended out-of-home placements. Describing this project and its potential impact on juvenile justice programs, the report states:

          Since 2012, a growing number of states have used data and research to inform sweeping policy changes that aim to improve juvenile justice systems. Their efforts include prioritizing use of detention and out-of-home placement for youth who present the greatest public safety risk, limiting the length of their confinement, reinvesting taxpayer savings to expand access to evidence-based services, and supporting community-based interventions for lower-level offenses. These changes reflect a growing body of research showing that costly, extended out-of-home placements often fail to produce better outcomes than alternative approaches.

          To understand the challenges and benefits of this shift, staff members from The Pew Charitable Trusts spoke with current and former leaders of juvenile justice agencies from three states that have undertaken comprehensive reform: Randy Bowman of Kansas, Kristi Bunkers of South Dakota, and Merton Chinen of Hawaii.

          Although the details vary, these leaders all said reform was necessary because their states were sending high numbers of low-level, low-risk youth to expensive out-of-home facilities and getting poor returns on those investments. They also agreed that using data and research to change minds and shape policy was critical to their states’ success, and they celebrated the opportunity presented by reform to redirect funds previously used for incarceration to strengthen evidence-based community programs.

How State Reform Efforts Are Transforming Juvenile Justice,” PEW November 26, 2019.