The increase in juvenile crime during the late 1980's and early 1990's resulted in the creation of "get-tough" policies which emphasized punishment and longer sentences. This report will examine these policies beginning with the historical development of juvenile court from its founding in 1899 to its present status as a court which has incorporated aspects of the adult criminal justice system. It then analyzes the status of juveniles, the majority of whom are victims of abuse, and their continued re-victimization in a system that has misinterpreted their symptoms of acting out as delinquency rather than a sign of mental illness or reaction to trauma. Also reviewed is the reported increase of females in the juvenile justice system and why this increase may be a result of "get-tough" policies which changed the juvenile justice system's response to girls' behaviors.
Finally, it will be argued that while the effect of "get-tough" policies has been an increase in the numbers of minority youth incarcerated, these policies have had no effect in preventing or deterring crime and/or reducing recidivism rates. It is recommended that the juvenile justice system's role in rehabilitation be reinforced by fully funding programs which have proven effective in the treatment of delinquency from infancy through adolescence. It is also recommended that "get-tough" policies be reviewed in light of their impact upon juveniles with mental illness and juveniles who suffer from past abuse and neglect. It is concluded that the behaviors of these youth should not be criminalized but treated in such a way that provides a pathway for treatment rather than one steering them towards the adult criminal justice system.