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Whatever elements of the criminal law that apply to persons of minor age are addressed by the juvenile justice system. The Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act specifically defines juvenile delinquency as an act that would otherwise be a crime, but is committed by a person under the age of eighteen. Eighteen continues to be the age-mark in most states, though some jurisdictions have lowered this mark to seventeen or sixteen as lawmakers in the United States increasingly find reason to attribute adult intent to juvenile delinquency.
Parents in the United States are, for the most part, given responsibility for the actions of their children. But when minors perform actions that would be considered criminal in adults the state steps in. Juvenile justice in the U.S. operates under the doctrine of parens patriae, which permits state jurisdictions to legislate statutes for the care, custody and proctection of children within state borders. For the most part, the federal government honors these state-legislated statutes, and limits its role in the juvenile justice system to funding and regulation. However, many standards of juvenile justice in the states have their origin in federal legislation, such as the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act of 1968 and its revised version, the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Act of 1972.
The juvenile justice system emphasizes deterrence and rehabilitation over retribution and restraint. Juvenile justice regards minor delinquents as not fully responsible for their actions, and it is hoped that correction and reform can be implemented within a relatively short time. The juvenile justice system aims to reform as many minor delinquents as possible into productive adult members of society. However, if reformation does not occur, and a minor persistently perpetrates crimes without signs of improvement or remorse, then the juvenile court may waive its jurisdiction and transfer the offender to the adult criminal courts.