The juvenile justice system was designed to “hide youthful errors from the full gaze of the public.” But the extra penalties attached to these sentences have ruined many lives.
...The U.S. juvenile courts split off from adult courts to protect against precisely this kind of scarlet lettering. A band of social reformers at the turn of the 20th century believed the stigma of incarceration affects children differently than adults. These reformers argued for courts that shielded children’s identities from the public and walled their cases off from corrosive media coverage; they argued that kids occupy an unusual behavioral chrysalis and urged sentencing that allowed them to learn from their mistakes. The juvenile justice system, opined the Supreme Court of Arizona in 1942, ought to “hide youthful errors from the full gaze of the public and bury them in the graveyard of the forgotten past.”
Decades of research on the peculiarities of adolescence reinforce this approach. Teenagers are rebellious, reckless, shortsighted, and tragically susceptible to peer pressure. They are impetuous and poor judges of many things that adults consider worthy of measured judgment. Eighty to 90 percent of teenage boys acknowledge, in anonymous surveys, having committed a delinquent act serious enough to result in incarceration. In short, kids, like the mentally ill, strain the norms of legal culpability.