Combating the Color-Coded Confinement of Kids: An Equal Protection Remedy


The juvenile justice system was created more than a century ago to assist, rather than punish, children like Jason. A product of the emerging twentieth-century concept of childhood as a period of innocence and malleability, the system was founded on the premise that delinquent acts by children were not born of malevolence, but rather were a product of antecedent forces largely beyond their control. The juvenile justice system was therefore to stand apart from the criminal justice system both substantively and procedurally. “The child was to be ‘treated’ and ‘rehabilitated,”‘ the Supreme Court would later reflect, “and the ‘procedures,’ from apprehension through institutionalization, were to be ‘clinical’ rather than punitive.” Criminal jurisprudence was eschewed in favor of procedural informality and nearly unfettered discretion, which, reformers believed, would best enable courts to diagnose and fashion an individualized cure for each child’s delinquent behavior.

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