July 28, 2016
One of the areas of responsibility for Pierce County government is our Juvenile Court system. Services for juveniles throughout the County, including those within our cities, who commit crime or who have been abused, neglected or abandoned and need protection and advocacy are done under the Juvenile Court system. It is daunting but important work. And our Court is showing great success.
To understand where we are now it is important to take a look back in time. About 150 ago, there were “Houses of Refuge,” often large fortress-like institutions in urban areas for youth designated as abandoned, delinquent or incorrigible and always poor. Many of these youth were confined for noncriminal behavior, idleness and vagrancy, and not criminal behavior simply because there were no other options. They were overcrowded and abuse by staff was rampant. There was no schooling within these institutions and often no type of health care. Some people became concerned for these youth and instead of placing them in these congregate “warehouse” facilities, they started reform schools, also called training and industrial schools, where the children were educated while incarcerated. Much did not change for over 100 years and these highly regimented, penitentiary-like institutions were the beginning of our juvenile justice system. Some improvements were made in the 1960’s with the inclusion of due process protections and formal hearings. The 80’s brought about serious damaging changes to the juvenile system. Due to a perception by the public that juvenile crime was on the rise and the system was too lenient, punitive laws such as mandatory sentencing and transferring youth to adult courts were passed. It got worse in the 90’s. Tougher laws were passed with increased incarceration resulting in deeper involvement into the criminal justice system. Incarceration for even minor offenses was growing. Youth correctional facilities became overcrowded and conditions were once again deplorable.