Juvenile Justice Glossary

Below you will find a glossary of frequently used terms related to juvenile justice. (1)

Downloadable/Printable Copy: CFCR’s Juvenile Justice Glossary

Adjudicated:  the finding, by a judge, that a youth is responsible for committing a delinquent act

Adjudicatory Hearing: the legal process during which a judge reviews evidence and arguments by the defense attorney and the prosecutor, and then makes a decision about guilt or innocence (basically when a judge reaches a verdict; there are no juries for juvenile delinquency cases in North Carolina)

Admission: the process where a juvenile admits to having committed a delinquent act (known in adult court as a “guilty plea”)

Community-based programs:  a service designed to meet a child’s needs or interests that is located near where he/she lives

Complaint: a legal document submitted to a juvenile court counselor that alleges the facts and reasons why the person who wrote the document thinks a child committed a delinquent act; if approved, the complaint becomes a petition and the youth goes through the formal court process

Court Counselor: a person employed by North Carolina Department of Public Safety to work with youth in the juvenile justice system; Court counselors have two roles: they decide whether to accept or divert complaints and they then supervise juveniles whose cases were approved for court (similar to probation officers)

 To locate information for your court counselor, visit: www.ncdps.gov/sbc 

Custody: a term used to describe a youth’s location and the person who has the responsibility for that child; For example, if a youth is in the custody of her parents, she is staying with her parents and her parents are responsible for her; If a juvenile is in police custody, she is with police who have the right to hold her until it is appropriate to release her. A juvenile may be placed into the custody of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (DPS) for detention in a locked facility, if community safety is at risk; a child is also considered to be in custody if the Department of Social Services has legal and/or physical custody of the child.

Debrief: a meeting of all relevant parties on a youth’s case team to discuss the Independent Psychological Assessment report and plan next steps

Delinquent: any youth who is at least 6-years-old and is not yet 16-years-old who is found responsible for breaking the law. Beginning December 2019, the upper age will be extended to youth who are not yet 18-years-old.  

Detention: detention centers are locked facilities, like jails. Juveniles may be placed in a juvenile detention center pending a court hearing or waiting for a placement for a variety of reasons, including when it is alleged that the child has 1) committed offenses that would be considered a felony if committed by an adult, 2) assaulted people, or 3) violated the conditions of their probation

Dismissal: the process of a judge or prosecutor deciding not to proceed with charges against a youth

Disposition: the court’s final determination of what will happen to a youth after a finding of responsibility or guilt for the delinquent act (similar to the judge giving out a sentence in criminal court)

District Court: trial courts established in each judicial district to hear matters such as civil cases involving amounts in controversy less than $25,000, adult criminal cases, divorce, custody, child support, delinquency, abuse/neglect/dependency, and civil commitment

Diversion: process where a court counselor or law enforcement agency provides an opportunity for a youth to avoid formal processing in the juvenile justice system by requiring that the he/she complete a diversion program; For example, a diversion program might require participation in a substance abuse program, mentoring program, and/or therapy

Expunction: the process where a juvenile who reaches the age of adult criminal responsibility (16 or 18 in NC) may have his/her juvenile charges cleaned or “expunged” from their records if certain conditions are met; some charges are not eligible for expunction; most juvenile records are confidential and are not a public record

Felony: a crime more serious than a misdemeanor, such as breaking and entering, possessing or distributing drugs, kidnapping, trafficking, and murder

GAIN (Global Appraisal of Individual Needs) Assessment: a comprehensive standardized bio-psychosocial assessment administered on adolescents, young adults, and adults to support clinical assessments for diagnosis, placement, and treatment planning

Geo-district:  the organization of Juvenile Court in Mecklenburg County designed to facilitate case assignment to a judge based on the zip code where the child resides; helps ensure that one judge addresses all potential court cases for a family whether in delinquency or in abuse/neglect/dependency cases (One Judge, One Family)

Guardian ad Litem:  a volunteer appointed by the court to investigate and advocate for the best interest of a child placed in the custody of the Department of Social Services

Indigent: the status of someone who does not have enough money to afford his/her own lawyer for a criminal case; all youth are considered indigent and are given a lawyer if their case goes to court

Intake: the process where a court counselor, upon receiving a complaint, schedules an initial meeting with the youth and his/her parent; the court counselor asks everyone several questions and uses the information to decide whether to file the complaint as a petition with the court and what recommendations to make to the judge for disposition

Independent Psychological Assessment (IPA): An independent, comprehensive narrative chronicling the entirety of the youth’s life resulting in a multi-domain detailed report that is presented to all members of the team. A doctorate level psychologist uses standardized assessments, interviews with family and collaterals and extensive record review during the process. The report, a trajectory of sorts is folded into formal court documents to best track implementation of recommendations.

JCPC:Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils fund services that are needed in a local community to provide court-ordered sanctions and services for youth and their families; JCPC programs are funded through a state and local partnership in all 100 NC counties.

Juvenile: for purposes of prosecution in North Carolina, a juvenile is a person under age 16. Currently, youth age 16 and older charged with a crime automatically go into the adult criminal system; a person who turns 16 while his/her case is pending in juvenile court stays in juvenile court for the duration of the case. Beginning December 2019, the upper age will be extended to youth who under age 18.

Juvenile Court: a district court that handles delinquency cases, civil commitment cases, and abuse/neglect/dependency cases

Misdemeanor: any crime that is not labeled as a felony, such as simple assault, disorderly conduct, stealing property valued at $1000 or less, and possession of drug paraphernalia

Model Courts: a national project to establish best practice standards that improve outcomes for abused and neglected children, juvenile offenders, and their families; The Model Courts Project works to identify barriers to the timeliness of court events and to the delivery of services for families and children as well as identify changes to improve processes  

Nonsecure Custody: the placement of a juvenile that does not restrict his or her freedom of movement in the custody of the Department of Social Services (DSS) or a person designated by the court; the juvenile may be placed in nonsecure custody after a petition is filed and pending an adjudicatory or dispositional hearing, or pending placement pursuant to a dispositional order

Ordinance:  a law that is created by a city or county legislature

Permanence: marks the resolution of a dependency case when a child is successfully transitioned to a safe, secure and stable placement indefinitely

Petition: a formal document filed by a court counselor requesting that charges be brought against a juvenile

Probation: a court-ordered period of supervision for a juvenile who has been adjudicated delinquent; It can last up to 12 months, but can be extended for an additional 12 months under certain circumstances; During probation, a youth is under the supervision of a court counselor and must abide by certain rules, such as abiding by curfew, abstaining from drugs or alcohol, attending court-ordered treatment and programs, and following the rules of parents; Violating the conditions of probation may result in the youth having to return to court, which can carry a variety of consequences including detention; Parents may also be ordered to comply with a juvenile’s probation order; the parent is responsible for attending court hearings and arranging for transportation to court-ordered treatment and meetings with court counselors.

Prosocial Activity: preferred terminology (as opposed to extracurricular) to describe activities outside of school or work

Public Defender or Court-Appointed Counsel: a lawyer appointed by the state to represent people who cannot afford an attorney. They are always appointed for juvenile cases because all juveniles are, by law, entitled to free counsel but a family has the right to hire an attorney. It is the public defender’s job to advocate for and advise clients while working toward the best possible outcome based on the child’s wants (not what the lawyer or parent wants). In North Carolina, a juvenile cannot represent himself or herself nor can they waive their right to counsel. There are five types of juvenile defense attorneys in North Carolina:

  • those who work in public defender offices;
  • those who have a contract with the Office of Indigent Defense Services to represent juveniles;
  • those who are on a list of local attorneys who are appointed to represent juveniles;
  • those who work in law school clinics; and
  • those who are hired and paid by a juvenile or someone on behalf of the juvenile

Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility(PRTF): a locked facility where youth live and are supposed to receive mental health, substance abuse, and education services

Restitution: a condition where the youth is responsible for returning, to the proper owner of property, the value of his/her loss. Usually this is the amount that has to be paid to the victim. For example, if a juvenile caused $200 worth of damage to a victim’s car, then the judge may order the juvenile to pay $200 of restitution to the victim. Under the law, restitution can usually be “paid” through community service. In most situations, restitution in juvenile court is capped at $500 due to a child’s inability to earn more money than that amount over the course of their probation

School-Justice Partnership:  local boards of education are required to develop a relationship with the local law enforcement agency and work together to reduce the rates of in-school arrests, expulsions, and out-of-school suspensions

Secure Custody: the placement of a juvenile in an approved locked facility after a petition has been filed and certain criteria have been met about the child’s charges and status of the case in court

Status offense:  a violation of the law that is only illegal because of the child’s age; examples include curfew violations, underage drinking, running away, etc.

Superior Court: trial courts that hear all felony criminal cases, civil cases involving amounts in controversy more than $25,000, and misdemeanor criminal case appeals; Superior Court is divided into eight divisions and fifty districts across North Carolina, 3 of which are in Mecklenburg County

Supervision:  the act of monitoring a child’s compliance with court-ordered conditions by a juvenile court counselor

Wilderness Camp: an outdoor camp and program to which juveniles may be sent as part of their disposition.  Wilderness camp addresses a variety of issues, which may include behavior modification and substance use. Youth must live there for a certain amount of time, which is usually 3 or 6 months

Youth Development Center(YDC): a locked residential facility that is supposed to provide long-term treatment, education, and rehabilitative services to juveniles. A judge can commit a juvenile to a YDC only under certain circumstances defined by law. Juveniles must live there for a certain period of time, which may range from 6 to 18 months or longer in some cases. Even after juveniles are released from YDCs, they are often still under the state’s supervision and can be returned to a YDC if they do not follow the terms and conditions of their release Commitment to a YDC is the most serious disposition the judge can impose

[1]Adapted from:  Langberg, J., & Robinson, P. (2014, Nov). A Guide to Juvenile Courts for Youth and Parents. Youth Justice North Carolina

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