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What Parents Should Know About the Juvenile Justice System

The goal of the juvenile justice system is to deter juveniles from future illegal acts. Parents are the most important resource in achieving that goal. Here are a few suggestions on how parents may help their child succeed:

What is the Juvenile Justice System?

The juvenile justice system is a network of agencies that deal with juveniles whose conduct has come in conflict with the law. These agencies include police, prosecutor, detention, court, probation, and the Department of Juvenile Corrections.

How Does the System Work?

There are various stages in the process. At each stage important decisions are made about how to handle cases.

Police Contact

When the police determine that a crime has been committed and have a suspect, they have the option of referring the juvenile to the prosecutor's office and returning the juvenile to his/her parent or requesting that the juvenile be detained in the Southwest Idaho Juvenile Detention Center.


The purpose of intake is to screen cases to determine how they will be handled. If a juvenile is detained and a petition is filed, the case is referred to court. However, in the case of minor offenses, the case may be referred for informal handling through the youth accountability board or through the probation department. Repeat offenders and felony cases are automatically referred to court by the prosecutor's office.


Detention is a short-term secure facility where juveniles are held awaiting court hearings. Juveniles may be held because of the seriousness of the offense, a history of criminal offenses, the juvenile is a threat to others, or to insure that the juvenile returns to court. The juvenile may also be placed in detention after the sentencing by the judge as a consequence for his/her actions. Parents may be ordered to pay detention costs.


The initial hearing is for the purpose of informing the juvenile and parents of the charges and their rights. The judge will also decide where and under what conditions the juvenile will stay until the next hearing.

Evidentiary Hearing

The evidentiary hearing is the same as a trial, except that juveniles do not have the right to a jury. At this hearing, the judge listens to everyone's testimony and determines whether the acts charged actually happened.


At the sentencing hearing the judge will decide what services will be ordered and what conditions the juvenile and parents must fulfill. Before the hearing, a probation officer will investigate the case by interviewing the family and other people to gather information to help the judge make a disposition. The judge may also order evaluations such as psychological, substance abuse, medical, etc. At the hearing the judge will consider the evaluations, reports, and statements made by all parties, including the victim. The juvenile and parents will be ordered to repay the victim for losses.


The two main dispositions the court may order are probation or commitment to the Department of Juvenile Corrections.

Probation is the disposition made in most juvenile court cases. The judge will order that the juvenile live with a responsible adult, usually the parents, and order that certain conditions be followed. They may include a curfew, school attendance, counseling, etc. The judge may order that the parents follow certain conditions and if they fail to, may be ordered to pay fines up to $1,000 or serve jail time.

The judge may determine that the juvenile needs treatment that is not available in the community or that the community needs to be protected from the juvenile's behavior. In such cases, the juvenile may be placed in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Corrections. The Department may then place the juvenile in foster care, a group home, a hospital, secure confinement, or placement in another state. Although the Department has legal custody of the juvenile, that does not mean that the parents lose either their rights or responsibilities as the parents. The Department will require that the parents pay for the treatment of their child while he/she is in the state's custody.

Waiver to Adult Court

The judge may determine that the juvenile is not going to respond to the juvenile system and presents enough of a danger to the community that the juvenile should be treated as an adult. First there has to be a hearing where the prosecutor must prove that the child should be treated as an adult. If the judge orders the juvenile into the adult system, he/she will be subject to any punishment available in adult court, such as a sentence to the Idaho State Penitentiary. There are certain offenses where a juvenile may be waived into adult court automatically.

Juvenile Corrections Act

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