How The System Works

The juvenile justice system has four stages : intake, adjudication, disposition, and post-adjudicatory review.

Intake and Detention Hearings

The juvenile comes to the attention of the police or juvenile courts through arrest or a juvenile petition.

Juvenile Petition = A document filed in juvenile court alleging that a juvenile is a delinquent, status offender, should be under the jurisdiction of the court, or be transferred to criminal courts.

Juvenile petitions are most likely filed by teachers, school administrators, neighbors, parents who are unable to control their child's behavior, and juvenile officers.

Detention Hearing

Detention hearings normally happen within the first 24 hours of apprehension and are used to determine if the juvenile is "clear and immediate danger to themselves or others".

Detention hearings are conducted by a juvenile court judge or a juvenile probation officer to make the intake decisions.

Intake =The first step in decision making regarding a juvenile whose behavior or alleged behavior is in violation of the law or could otherwise cause a juvenile court to assume jurisdiction.

During this hearing the juvenile will be given diversions placed in a detention facility, or could have the case dismissed.

Preliminary Hearing

The preliminary Hearing is to determine if there is probable cause to believe the juvenile committed the alleged act.

along with their parents or guardians the juvenile is advised of their rights, and if probable cause is established then they will be offered diversionary options.

Serious offenders may be transferred to the adult courts at the prosecuting attorneys request.

Adjudication Hearing

Adjudication Hearing = the fact-finding process wherein the juvenile court determines whether there is sufficient evidence to sustain the allegations in a petition.

Some jurisdictions allow juveniles to be tried by their peers in teen courts.

Teen Court = An alternative approach to juvenile justice in which alleged offenders are judged and sentenced by a jury of their peers.


After the juvenile has been found delinquent there is a dispositionary hearing.

Dispositionary Hearing = the final stage in the processing of adjudicated juveniles, in which a decision is made on the form of treatment or penalty that should be imposed upon the child.

The two major classes of juvenile disposition are;  to confine or not to confine.  Most judges decide not to confine juveniles and place them on formal probation.

Juvenile Disposition = the decision of a juvenile court, concluding a dispositionary hearing, that an adjudicated juvenile be committed to a correctional facility; be placed in a juvenile residence, shelter, or care/treatment program; be required to meet certain standards of conduct; or be released.