Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Law and Family Studies (2005) 7: 1-55. Copyright 2005, University of Utah and the authors. Used by permission.


We find ourselves at a confusing time in the history of juvenile justice. As a nation, we are transferring children into an adult system at a greater rate than we have ever seen before. Public response urges that juveniles be locked away not only to punish them, but also to keep the public safe. The public views these delinquent children as a threat and something to fear. Legislators respond to the public fear with more liberal transfer options into the adult system and punitive juvenile sanctions within the juvenile system. If a juvenile escapes transfer into the adult system, then they are left in a juvenile system that has become virtually indistinguishable from the adult system. Either way, juveniles experience a much less rehabilitative system than it was originally envisioned when the juvenile court movement began.

While holding the punitive-sanctions-for-juveniles banner high with their right hand, the legislators are now waving another flag with their left hand. The two flags stand for different philosophies, as if they were from two warring nations. Although the first flag stands for holding juveniles up to the same standard as adults, the second flag holds parents accountable for the juvenile's crimes. The first says that because an adult-like crime was committed, then it is appropriate to give an adult-like punishment. The second says that because an adult-like crime was committed, it is appropriate to punish the adults in the juvenile's life. This second flag represents a relatively new wave of legislation referred to generically as parental responsibility laws. The inconsistencies between the two notions creates an illogicality of saying that juveniles are mature enough to be treated as adults, but their parents should be held responsible for their behavior because of their immaturity. Just as serving two opposing armies will likely guarantee demise, so too will this loyalty to these two philosophies. The punitive response toward juveniles has received vast attention from legal and social researchers; however, scholars have relatively neglected parental responsibility. This article seeks to provide a foundation for future researchers by explaining the current legislative status of these laws and by making the state laws easily and readily accessible. In order to accomplish this goal, this article begins in Part II by providing a short historical perspective on parental responsibility. In Part III, the brief historical descriptions are expanded into an organized compilation of the laws from each state. Part IV presents the public and scholarly support for parental responsibility laws.