Have there always been juvenile courts?

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The first juvenile court was established in 1899. However, it wasn’t until 1945 that all states had court systems designed specifically for minors.

In the mostly rural society of the early 19th century, parents, churches, and local community organizations punished children who committed crimes. Children were typically disciplined by force, sometimes brutally.

The urbanization that followed the industrial revolution in the last half of the 19th century posed particular problems for children. Many were subject to harsh conditions, including extensive poverty and labor. At that time, children who got into trouble (and even those who were simply abused or neglected) were often put to work or sent away to relatives. So-called reform schools, the precursors of modern juvenile halls, were also set up. The ostensible purpose of these schools was to change or reform children, in part by giving them skills and training. But in reality, these facilities were often little more than warehouse-like jails, some with deplorable conditions, where most of the learning was about how to become a better criminal.

At around the turn of the 20th century, many social leaders came to believe that reform schools weren't working. They also began to understand children not simply as mini-adults, but as people with special needs who should be treated differently. Consequently, the movement for a separate juvenile justice system began.

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