New York state established children’s courts in 1922. By 1923, a New York Times Magazine article detailed what they were like for juvenile defendants.
In those days the Judge would say, “Officer, what is the charge?” “Stealing.” “Thirty days in the workhouse” — or whatever it might be, and call the next case. But now he looks the boy straight in the eye and in a kindly tone says: “Tony, tell me how it all happened.”
While this more lenient approach was adopted for small and medium crimes, not necessarily when the crime in question was more severe.
A small negro was brought in for murder. “Moider,” as the whispers ran in the corridors, “he’s a moiderer.” He, I believe, was taken from his parents and put in the Children’s Village up-State, there to think of his sins, and grow up under trained supervision. But even he was a “moiderer” in name only, as he had seemed much surprised when they told him his playmate was dead, because he had hit him on the head with a bar of iron!
The Supreme Court banned the death penalty for juveniles in 2004’s Roper v. Simmons, by a 5-4 vote.
A Child’s Day in Court
Published: Sunday, March 4, 1923
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