Law enforcement's goals are to protect individuals and communities. Juvenile crime has become one aspect and responsibility of police officers around the country. Juveniles are getting involved in the criminal world more and more, consequently forcing the government to take measures to now deal with higher rates of juvenile crime. Trying juveniles as adults and sentencing them to imprisonment with adults may do more harm than good in that they will learn more criminal behavior by associating with hardened criminals in prison. The long-term solution to the problem of juvenile crime falls largely outside of the law enforcement system. It requires strengthening those basic institutions - the family, schools, religious institutions, and community groups - that are responsible for instilling values and creating law-abiding citizens.
Before juvenile courts were established in the United States, juvenile offenders were treated the same as an adult offender. They were subject to the same laws, punishments, and treatment by police. Before juvenile courts, juveniles, under the age of 7, were not responsible for criminal behavior based on the thought they were not capable of criminal intent. By the early 1900's the juvenile justice system and juvenile courts had been created. During the early years of the juvenile justice system, police departments began hiring female officers because of the stereotype that women had a natural maternal role and would be better dealing with juveniles than that of male officers. A big change for the way juvenile offenders were treated came with the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. Now federal and state laws usually limit the time that police can detain and hold a juvenile. Although laws vary from state to state, many police practices are restricted when it comes to dealing with juvenile offenders. Many states have per se attorney laws which require that a juvenile be represented by a lawyer in all of the critical phases.
For young offenders, law enforcement is often the entry point into the juvenile justice system. In the United States, there are growing numbers of juveniles now involved in acts of crime. This has become a large epidemic for our country and is affecting our nation as a whole. Police today realize what a problem this has become and are aware that juveniles need protection. Police departments around the country now have juvenile crime units that only handle juvenile offenders and victims to be sure those children are receiving specialized attention. These departments not only work with cases of juvenile crime and investigation but also with schools, social services, child welfare services, and organizations that focus on keeping juveniles out of the criminal justice system (Grant & Terry, 2008). Most juvenile units exist to investigate crimes; however there is an increasing amount of time and resources that police spend on youth education and prevention programs.