The Courts: Justice for Juveniles

Nothing has so baffled judges through the ages as how to handle children accused of crime. English common law absolved those under seven but often gave older children the same rap as adults. One eight-year-old was thus hanged for burning a barn, reports Blackstone's Commentaries; a 13-year-old servant girl was burned for killing her mistress. Such shockers moved Illinois in 1899 to establish the first U.S. juvenile court, on the humane theory that government must "protect" children whose parents fail them, rehabilitating rather than punishing.

No, 13,459. Juvenile courts now exist in every state. In three-quarters of the states they...

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