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What is Juvenile Hall?

By Alison Faria
Updated May 16, 2024
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A juvenile hall, also known as a youth detention center, is a secure facility for young people, or juveniles. These offenders are usually awaiting court hearings or long-term disciplinary care programs for committing juvenile crimes, such as drug possession or robbery. Juveniles are typically held in a detention center to ensure they will appear at his or her appointed court date, as well as for public safety reasons.

The initiation of a juvenile criminal case starts with an arrest. If the offense is considered to be minor, the juvenile may be released to his or her guardians. If the offense is more serious, or if it is determined that he or she has violated probation, the offender is typically taken to juvenile hall to begin the booking process.

Part of the juvenile hall booking process generally involves a medical assessment. This is usually done to check for any injuries or to determine whether or not the juvenile is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If it is determined that he or she is in unfit condition, then medical treatment will be given before booking continues. After the juvenile is searched for such things as narcotics and weapons, he or she is usually given clean clothes and assigned to a housing unit to await a detention hearing.

A detention hearing is where a judge determines whether the juvenile should be released to the care of his or her legal guardians. Unlike adults, juveniles are typically not able to be released on bail or given jury trials. In addition to the judge and the juvenile, the juvenile's attorney, guardians, and other necessary court officials are typically required to be present at the hearing.

While in juvenile hall, offenders might be placed in a housing unit where they typically will have one roommate. Usually, one-person rooms are reserved for those who display uncooperative or aggressive behavior. Juveniles usually have meals and educational instruction within the unit. Aside from release, they typically only leave their unit for visits with family members.

In addition to educational programs, juveniles might have other activities to participate in at a juvenile hall. Unless excused because of medical reasons, one hour of outdoor exercise per day is typically required. Generally, there are quiet times enforced in the units for reading, studying, or working on homework. Evening activities, such as board games or phone calls, are typically reserved only for those who demonstrate good behavior.

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Discussion Comments

By anon347295 — On Sep 05, 2013

If juveniles were held accountable for their actions, maybe there would be less crime.

By anon347108 — On Sep 03, 2013

Some people have no idea what they are talking about. I was in juvenile hall. Why? For running away from a foster home. Basically, I was punished for not liking my foster home. Thanks CPS. That really showed me. It only made me hate the system even more and want to run away more. Most of the juvenile "offenders" had not committed any serious crime. Most were there for stupid stuff like skipping school or running away from home.

By anon340243 — On Jul 01, 2013

If you are a girl who just turned 17 is June and you take makeup from someone in your family and they eventually get it back after some time and the family decides to send you to juvenile hall, how long would you be there for?

By anon325435 — On Mar 16, 2013

Juvenile halls are violent, out of control places with almost no discipline or enforcement. Assaults on staff are quite frequent. There is also a high staff turnover rate because of gang violence against staff.

By sherlock87 — On Jul 26, 2011

@Monika- I sort of agree with you, though I have also known people involved in juvenile hall who had even more trouble adjusting to life and staying out of trouble once they left. I think it has to do with how juvenile halls are run, and the issue of discipline there. They seem to be pretty undisciplined places, just like prisons, and maybe that is what needs to be fixed.

By Hawthorne — On Jul 26, 2011

@SkittisH - If a juvenile commits a crime such as murder, they might even be sentenced in a court for juveniles, then locked up in juvenile hall until after they are 18. When they turn 18, they may actually be transferred to regular jail to finish serving whatever time they were sentenced.

However, I'm not clear on whether they can be put on trial again after they turn 18 for the same crime they were put on trial for as a teen. That seems like it would be an injustice, especially if judging a now-adult for a crime they committed as a teen back when, as hanley79 puts it, their brains hadn't finished growing in yet.

Anybody reading this might go, "Of course they can't put a now-adult on trial for a crime they committed as a teen!" but one of my friends' friends committed a crime when he was 14 and is still being punished for it now. He's literally not legally allowed within a particular town for that crime he committed at 14 -- and he's now 26.

By SkittisH — On Jul 26, 2011

@hanley79 - The brain doesn't finish growing until 25...well, you learn something new every day. If that's really the case, then you could have a point -- maybe the maximum age of to go to a juvenile detention hall should be raised.

I believe you're right -- juvenile hall exists because teens and other youths are not yet considered responsible adults in society, and so their crimes are not all their fault. To be blunt, parents are responsible for their kids' actions until the kids are considered adults -- which in this country is 18.

That means that no, not even teenage murderers can be convicted like an adult. They certainly will end up sentenced differently in juvenile court, though, and might stay locked up awhile in juvenile hall.

By hanley79 — On Jul 25, 2011

This question might seem a bit dark, but I'm curious if anybody here knows the answer. What happens to a youth if they commit a really bad crime, like murder?

More specifically, do they still go to a juvenile detention center, or are there special cases where if the crime is bad enough the youth gets prosecuted and sentenced like an adult?

I had previously thought that preventing prosecuting teens like they were adults was the whole reason for juvenile hall -- you know, that it was actually kind of protecting them, since teens can often make stupid mistakes and can't really be blamed for them as much as a rational adult can.

Science has proven that the brain doesn't completely finish growing until you're 25, so it's possible that some young adults over 18 ought to really still be getting the protection of juvenile hall. I certainly know a few youth who will probably still be getting into plenty of trouble after their 18th birthdays, despite my best efforts to be a good influence.

Any thoughts on whether juveniles who have committed particularly awful crimes should be prosecuted like adults? How about whether young adults who are over 18 but under 25 should get lighter sentences because their brains aren't done growing in yet?

By ahain — On Jul 25, 2011

@Monika - And then there are sometimes juveniles whose parents are simply never around. I agree, I think that being placed in a unit in juvenile hall can actually be a good thing for these troubled youths.

@StrawCake - according to the article the kids are kept in separate units with one roommate, so it doesn't sound like a whole lot of influencing could go on in there unless they got a particularly bad roommate -- and the juveniles with bad behavior are assigned their own rooms.

All in all, I have always thought of juvenile hall as an example of what jail would be like to delinquent youth so that they might get a scare now and whip themselves into shape before they end up in actual jail. The isolation of talking to only family or the people in juvenile hall might be enough to make most teens behave once they get out.

By Monika — On Jul 25, 2011

@strawCake - I see what you're saying, but I disagree.

Oftentimes, youths who end up in the juvenile justice system come from families that can't or won't take care of them. Or youth is very troubled and needs professional care that the family can't provide. I really think some of them are better off being in the system than at home with their families! Also, if they are in a detention center, at least they can't get in more trouble.

By strawCake — On Jul 24, 2011

I really don't think juvenile hall's are the best places for troubled young people. I think most of them should be released to their parents pending trial. The last thing a young person who is in trouble needs is to be around more young people who are in trouble!

It's a widely known fact that a lot of convicts learn more about criminal activities once they are in jail. They are influenced by the people who are in there with them. I'm sure the same is true of juvenile delinquents. At least give juvenile offenders a fighting chance and let them stay with their families!

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