Juvenile justice is the area of criminal law applicable to persons not old enough to be held responsible for criminal acts. In most states, the age for criminal culpability is set at 18 years. Juvenile law is mainly governed by state law and most states have enacted a juvenile code. The main goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation rather than punishment.
Juveniles can be transferred into adult court if the juvenile court waives or relinquishes its jurisdiction.
State statutes creating juvenile courts and providing methods for dealing with juvenile delinquencey have generally been upheld by courts as an acceptable extension of state police power to ensure the safety and welfare of children. States are authorized to legislate for the protection, care, custody and maintenance of children within its jurisdiction.
The federal role in the field has largely been that of funder and standard setter. The stated purpose of the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Act is to assist states and local communities in providing community based preventative services to youths in danger of becoming delinquent, to help train individuals in occupations providing such services, and to provide technical assistance in the field.
The Act defines juvenile delinquency (any act that is othewise a crime, but is committed by someone under 18 years of age) and sets forth rules by which state laws must comply with regard to juvenile court procedures and punishments.