When it comes to dealing with juveniles in the criminal justice system, the paradigms of justice have changed dramatically over the past century. Surveying current literature on the subject, it becomes clear that the U.S. has moved from a predominantly rehabilitative model to a punishment model when it comes to dealing with juvenile crime: "for the majority of this century, the principles underlying the practices of the juvenile court and the juvenile justice system were the protection and rehabilitation of offenders.The corresponding notion of punishment was that juveniles would receive guidance and treatment from the system".
This paradigm shift has been sparked by public outrage over recent surges in the juvenile crime rate. according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), "about 2.3 million persons under the age of eighteen are arrested by law enforcement agencies in the United States each year". In short, the American public does not feel that law enforcement has a duty to protect citizens from the harm imposed by juvenile offenders; not rehabilitate juveniles so that they can become effective members of society.
The shift from the rehabilitative model of juvenile justice to the punitive model has promulgated a period of transition for the juvenile justice system. As the juvenile prison system in the United States struggles with the challenges of meeting public demand for more restrictive treatment of juvenile offenders, and adhering to its core ideologies to rehabilitate juvenile offenders, the system has begun a long line of new experimental programs aimed at reaching both goals. According to the Koch Crime institute, among the most innovative programs to be developed in the past decade to deal with the challenge of juvenile offenders are included: "the building of more secure facilities and development of other options, such as juvenile boot camps, house arrest programs, day treatment centers, experimental wilderness camps, and enhanced probation sanctions". While many of these programs have yet to be evaluated for their efficacy, many seem to show a considerable amount of promise for reconciling the two opposing viewpoints of juvenile justice.
Despite the fact that the juvenile justice system is making progress in its efforts to rehabilitate youth in a more punitive environment, the reality is that the progress has, by in large been slow and tedious. Arguably, the challenges faced by juvenile justice adjudicators is a difficult one. However, if the current programs fail to provide effective results, the reality for the juvenile justice system may be a closer model of the criminal justice system. This would be a severe detriment not only to juvenile offenders, but also to the juvenile justice system as well.