Decriminalizing Childhood

46 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2018

See all articles by Andrea Dennis

Andrea Dennis

University of Georgia School of Law

Date Written: February 2, 2018


Even though the number of juveniles arrested, tried and detained has recently declined, there are still a large number of delinquency cases, children under supervision by state officials, and children living in state facilities for youth and adults. Additionally, any positive developments in juvenile justice have not been evenly experienced by all youth. Juveniles living in urban areas are more likely to have their cases formally processed in the juvenile justice system rather than informally resolved. Further, the reach of the justice system has a particularly disparate effect on minority youth who tend to live in heavily-policed urban areas. The original concept of the juvenile justice system consisted of a singular, informal juvenile court focused on rehabilitating youthful offenders engaged in criminal and noncriminal conduct to help them become productive citizens. The original system has been replaced by a network of juvenile, criminal, and specialty courts, any one of which may adjudicate a child’s court case. Once juveniles enter this complex system, many negative legal impacts can occur, including lengthy periods of community supervision or incarceration and substantial fines and fees. Socially, court-involved youth are more likely to reoffend, experience physical or mental health problems, have poor educational outcomes, and have difficulty in the job market in the future. This Article considers legislative decriminalization of juvenile misconduct, an underutilized method for juvenile justice reform. Decriminalization can prevent youth from entering the juvenile justice system and the problems that stem from system contact. This Article endeavors to begin a conversation among youth scholars, advocates, and policymakers about decriminalization as a mechanism for reforming the juvenile justice systems in the United States.

Keywords: criminal law, children, juveniles, criminal justice, courts, youth, prosecution, criminal procedure, discrimination, race

JEL Classification: K14, K36

Suggested Citation

Dennis, Andrea, Decriminalizing Childhood (February 2, 2018). Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 45, 2018, University of Georgia School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018-04, Available at SSRN:

Andrea Dennis (Contact Author)

University of Georgia School of Law ( email )

225 Herty Drive
Athens, GA 30602
United States
706-542-3130 (Phone)

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