One of the most significant historical reforms used in dealing with the juvenile offender was the opening of the New York House of Refuge in 1825. Research this classic institution and define the...

One of the most significant historical reforms used in dealing with the juvenile offender was the opening of the New York House of Refuge in 1825. Research this classic institution and define the social and judicial consequences of this reform movement on the juvenile justice system. What is your assessment of the groundbreaking work that took place, and how does it compare to our current child-saving movement?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The New York House of Refuge was founded in 1825 as a way of dealing with juvenile offenders in a more humane manner. Previously, youths who committed crimes were sent to jails and other institutions where they had to serve time with adults. Sometimes, children were sent to jails or penitentiaries for noncriminal offenses because cities such as New York, plagued with high rates of poverty, had nowhere else to put them. Reformers John Griscom and Thomas Eddy started the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism in an effort to house juveniles in facilities where they would not be alongside criminal adults. Their efforts led to the founding of the New York House of Refuge, which was clearly a humane and important milestone in the juvenile justice movement. 

The New York House of Refuge was the first institution for juvenile offenders, and it led to similar institutions in many cities. The New York House of Refuge went on to house boys and girls and to employ them in making shoes and chairs as well as in tailoring. Children also received some educational instruction in subjects such as reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and music. They were also required to have morning and evening prayers. Over time, these institutions developed into educational facilities, called training and industrial schools. They resulted in a social changes in the ways in which juvenile offenders were treated, including an emphasis on education and preparation for adult life. 

The New York House of Refuge also led to new forms of judicial treatment for juvenile offenders, including probation and out-of-home placement. The juvenile court system was first established in 1899 in Cook County, Illinois. This court system was based on the legal idea of the state as parens patriae (the state as parent), which meant that the state could act on the behalf of children. Judges had wide latitude to decide what was best for children, acting in their interest.

The current juvenile justice movement has moved away from this system, as the Supreme Court instituted changes in the 1960s that gave juvenile offenders due process rights, including the right to an attorney. As a result, the system became more like the adult criminal justice system than like the earlier parens patriae system. Many juvenile facilities became more punitive in the 1980s, though there are some efforts in California and elsewhere to reform this system. Today's system is very different than earlier reform efforts such as the movement that established the New York House of Refuge, as it places less emphasis on humane treatment and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.