Juvenile Court Philosophy: the Parens Patriae Doctrine

Table of Contents


The Parens Patriae doctrine has become widely adopted in the juvenile system as advocates of such a system assert that juveniles are heavily influenced by their developmental context. On the other hand, the get tough moment believes in holding juvenile offenders responsible for their wrongs.

Summaries of the two philosophies

The Parens Patriae doctrine holds the view that young people do not completely understand the implications of their actions as their moral values are yet to be fully developed and so are other emotional aspects. Besides this, the author of ‘Best Practices in juvenile accountability’ claims that for the juvenile system to be effective, then there must be a way of repairing the problems brought onto the community and the victims. Beyer (2) asserts that punishment based systems may not achieve the same results as rehabilitation systems that incorporate social and developmental aspects of the offender. This is because the latter approach can offer corrective action that suits the offender’s age; it protects the community as well as protects the rights of the community.

In this article, Beyer (2) attempts to get to the root cause of juvenile actions. She claims that most often than not, teenagers overly rely on loyalty and fairness as their ultimate values. Consequently, anything that comes in the way of this may be addressed through inappropriate methods such as crime. Besides that, young people are also propelled by fear and they lush out at others through crime. Therefore, effective intervention systems must be those ones that help these young persons to deal with these fears and to develop the right principles of morality.

Beyer (2) also adds that there must be effective ways of harnessing the strengths of young people rather than emphasizing their weaknesses through punishments. Most of the time, this heightens the likelihood of positive results. When young people understand the process of victimization or the consequences of the crimes that they have committed, then they are likely to refrain from repeating them. Prevention of juvenile crimes is also strengthened when young people are involved in programs that engage the community that they are affected instead of being separated from it. If skills building become a vital link in these efforts, then chances are that juveniles may be well on their way to achieving their respective goals and objectives.

Griffion (3) in his article ‘Developing and administering accountability based sanctions for juveniles’ claims that accountability in its most basic form is a situation in which one is fully held responsible for their actions through first understanding it. In this regard, the juvenile is made to face consequences for carrying out certain actions. However, the latter author is quick to point out that this approach is not just one sided. In other words, there is the element of restoring balance by ensuring that the offender fully comprehends what he or he has done in the first place. Secondly, accountability requires that public safety be enhanced as well.

Recent uses of accountability do not merely refer to a system of punishment that is removed from the community. The latter writer asserts that corrective actions are mostly strengthened when the victimized community and the offending party are brought close together so as to repair the damages caused. The Get Tough movement calls for a juvenile system that possesses the following characteristics; speed, clarity, uniformity and certainty.

Also, Griffin (3) points out that there ought to be a sequence against which offenders must be subjected to. For example, a first time offender maybe sanctioned within his community (if the offense committed was non violent) and as one progresses into the continuum, one finds that secure programs are more effective for extremely violent offenders. Consequently, the more intensive an offender’s actions are, the greater the sanctions they go through.

Comparison and contrasts

There are a number of similarities that arise between Parens Patriane doctrine and the get Tough movement as highlighted in the latter articles. First of all, both methods are such that they incorporate the community and the offender within their programs. In other words, balance is a key element here. Aside from that, both doctrines entail being flexible i.e. in accountability doctrines, sanctions are changed depending on the nature of the offence and in rehabilitation, different approaches are used in order to make offenders more aware of their actions.

In both systems of correction, advocates claim that exporting delinquents to other institutions may not be a comprehensive plan. Instead, both doctrines call for supporting, teaching as well as supervisory obligations among the concerned communities so as to ensure that the responsibility for restoring justice is handled effectively among all these groups. It should also be noted that there may be some circumstances in both doctrines where the parties concerned are required to come into direct contact with the victims of their respective crimes through community service or other types of restorative approaches.

Nonetheless, there are several issues that are distinct to these two types of doctrines. First of accountability based systems rarely focus on developmental or socially related issues that could have propelled the crime. Instead, they tend to focus on treatments based on specific offences. This is actually the reason why there is a continuum of sanctions that prevail in this kind of approach.

Aside from that, consistency and commitment are key aspects in the Get Tough movement compared to the rehabilitative approach. In the former doctrine, advocates tend to believe that the juvenile system has numerous flaws and that sealing such loopholes can go a long way in restoring justice. On the other hand, Parens Patriae advocates tend to rely on the fact that each case in juvenile delinquency is unique and regard there are always effective ways of dealing it at any one time.

Rehabilitation largely focuses on the fact that every single youth has an underlying strength and that strength is related to their developmental stage. By harnessing it, then chances are that the offender’s self worth will be restored and that the reason for carrying out their actions will be eliminated. This approach is not mentioned in the retribution or get tough movement doctrines. (Griffin, 3)

Punishment is seen as a crucial aspect of the get tough approach but this may not necessarily be the case for the rehabilitation program because in the former, responsibility for one’s actions is greatly emphasized while in the latter, there is a greater emphasis in building positive reinforcements


The get tough movement calls for accountability and punishment however, there is some element of balance called for and this is the reason why there are some similarities between the two approaches. On the other hand, the Parens Patriae doctrine calls for incorporation of more development and social elements into the corrective actions.


Beyer, Marty. “Best practices in juvenile accountability.” Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grants Program Bulletin, (2003): NCJ 184745.

Griffin, Patrick. “Developing and administering accountability based sanctions for juveniles.” Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grants Program Bulletin, (1999): NCJ 177612.

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