Recent years have witnessed a mounting crescendo of concern over the administration of our juvenile courts. In general, this concern has manifested itself in two somewhat contrasting attitudes. On the one hand, juvenile court judges are castigated for handing out light "sentences" and kid glove treatment to tough young hoodlums who steal our automobiles, deface our landscape, defile our daughters, and disparage our cherished institutions—all, probably, while hopped up on narcotics or barbiturates. On the other hand, the juvenile court and its judges are seen as instruments of oppression, inequity, and injustice, masquerading behind a facade of benevolence and concern for the "best interests of the child." To the critics on both scores, apologists for the juvenile court reply in the now familiar litany: the juvenile court is not a criminal court; delinquents are not criminals; disposition is not punishment. Given reliable data on the probable etiology of delinquent conduct, on the manner in which such conduct becomes escalated from isolated or episodic to habitual, repetitive behavior, and given at the same time society's attitudes toward such behavior, how may the juvenile courts best achieve the goal of eliminating, or at least minimizing, the incidence of this behavior? It is in the context of this statement of the problem that I intend to discuss, briefly, some legal aspects of the juvenile court—namely adjudication, disposition, and the "legal rights" of children in court, and to conclude the discussion with a modest proposed solution. We are standing today on the threshold of a broad and sweeping reexamination of the juvenile court's philosophy and procedures of which the recent United States Supreme Court decisions in Kent v. U.S. and In re Gault are only the vanguard. By examining present attitudes and law with respect to the several legal problems mentioned, perhaps we can perceive the point of balance between the polar positions outlined above and thereby also plumb the possibilities of developments yet to come.
Charles W. Tenney Jr.,
The New Dilemma in the Juvenile Court,
47 Neb. L. Rev. 67
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