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During the colonial period to early 1800s, youths were subject to the same criminal justice process as adults. A recent historical development is that of creating a separate institution for the treatment of youths who engage in illegal or immoral behavior. Children apprehended for crimes were tried in the same courts and, when found guilty, were often given the same punishment as adults.

Most Americans today are aware that a separate justice process exists for juveniles but most lack an understanding of how this process works or how effective juvenile justice programs are. Others hold views based more on myth than reality. Moreover, the social, political, economic contexts that shapes juvenile crime and juvenile justice practices are not understood by majority of the citizens.