longer free to question the juvenile about his conduct unless the juvenile waives his rights. Although adherence to the rules of evidence is somewhat less rigorous in juvenile proceedings, in many regards they became similar to criminal trials in the post-Gault era. The extension of procedural rights to juveniles in delinquency hearings proceeded with little attention to the question of whether juveniles were competent to exercise their rights. This may be due to an implicit assumption that the level of competence required for a juvenile to function as a defendant in a delinquency proceeding is less demanding than that required of an adult facing prosecution (Scott and Grisso, 2005). But adjudicative competence became a key issue in the 1990s as more youth were tried in criminal court.
These due process reforms made sense, of course, only if rehabilitation were not the sole aim of the hearings. But the due process reforms did not constitute an explicit rejection of the juvenile system or even of rehabilitation as one of its goals.10 During the dispositional stage of the delinquency proceeding, courts are expected to exercise discretion and to respond to the individual needs of offenders. Although the due process reformers challenged the rosy characterization of young offenders as innocent children, they supported the proposition that juveniles were different from adults and should receive different treatment in the justice system (Zimring, 1978; Shepherd, 1996). In the 1970s and 1980s, most juveniles continued to be dealt with in a separate system in which dispositions continued to have a rehabilitative focus.
Nonetheless, the due process revolution created a conceptual vacuum, by destabilizing the rehabilitative model that had provided a coherent rationale for a juvenile justice system and borrowing adversarial procedures and sanctions from the adult criminal justice system. In the 1970s and 1980s, a few law reform groups responded by offering a new model of juvenile justice—one that emphasized accountability and public protection but retained a commitment to lenience and a concern for the needs of young offenders (Zimring, 1978, 1998; Shepherd, 1996). The Juvenile Justice Standards, an ambitious law reform project, sponsored by the Institute for Judicial Administration and the American Bar Association, emphasized the importance of expansive procedural protections for youth in delinquency proceedings and challenged the tradition of discretionary dispositions. The standards envisioned proportionate but lenient sanctions, which for most youth could be undertaken in their communities (Singer, 1980). But before this new approach could become established, youth advocates lost control of the law reform process. A third wave of reform took hold that explicitly rejected the goal of rehabilitation, along with the assumption that young offenders were different from adults in ways that were important to justice
10 McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528 (1971).