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Model Programs Guide Literature Review: Age Boundaries of the Juvenile Justice System

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2024

This review of literature on the modern juvenile justice system discusses the system’s establishment and development history; it examines the available research on adolescent development and outcomes of raise-the-age legislation and court rulings on protections for youth under the age of 18 years.


This literature review provides an overview of the history of the juvenile justice system and its evolution since its inception in 1899, following reform efforts in the late 1800s that aimed to rehabilitate youth younger than 16 years. The document notes that the age parameters of the juvenile justice system continue to be modified as lawmakers become aware of new research on adolescent development into adulthood. The literature review discusses the age boundaries of the juvenile justice system; it provides definitions of relevant terms from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Statistical Briefing Book Glossary (SBB) and the OJJDP Model Programs Guide (the MPG); describes common exceptions based on mitigating circumstances or transfer laws; presents a national perspective on data trends on age in the juvenile justice system; and summarizes research related to adolescent developmental science, and highlights how that research has impacted the raise-the-age legislation and recent Supreme Court decisions on protections for youths under the age of 18 years. The literature review also examines outcome evidence on the impact of changing the age boundaries for jurisdiction of juveniles who offend, including attempts at diverting them from adult court and transfer laws.

Date Published: March 1, 2024