The Doctrines of “Parens Patriae and the Get-Tough Movement”

Juveniles are among the vulnerable persons in society. They are prone to harm from self, parents and guardians, peers, and the community. Therefore, the government is mandated with the protection and care of minors. One way of effecting this task is through the incarnation of children for varying reasons. Just as adults, some juveniles engage in crimes and activities that are risky to them and others. However, the primary role of the juvenile justice system is not to punish minors but to rehabilitee and reform them. The initiative protects them from harm to their physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing. The juvenile justice system adopts the doctrines of “parens patriae and get-tough movement’ to this effect. This paper discusses the meaning of “parens patriae and get-tough movement,” highlighting how they are different as well as compatible.

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The Doctrine of Parens Patriae

Parens patriae is English means ‘parent of his or her country’. It is a doctrine that is applied to the juvenile justice legal system. It allows the state to adopt the role of guardian for some groups of vulnerable groups, among them the juveniles, who are incapable of caring for themselves. However, the doctrine of parens patriae is not to protect minors from social harm or facilitate the access to material support where their families have failed to provide. It mandates the juvenile justice system to safeguard the children from themselves (Fagan, 2010). Therefore, in cases where the actions of juveniles lead or are likely to endanger children, the juvenile justice system evokes its authority to incarcerate them. Accordingly, through the doctrine of parens patriae, the children are removed from the homes and environment that are assumed to expose them to danger and incarcerated to receive treatment and lead to a change of behavior.

“The Doctrine of Get Tough Movement’

Young offenders pose a threat to society. The get-tough movement doctrines aim to protect citizens from the actions of juvenile offenders, especially those with a history of violent crimes (Merlo, Champion, & Benekos, 2016). It acknowledges that children who engage in capital crimes pose a danger to society and should receive punitive measures to become accountable. The purpose of the harsh punishments is to deter the youth from committing crimes. Now, more juveniles serve more punitive sentences.

The Differences and Similarities of the Doctrines of “Parens Patriae and the Get-Tough Movement”

The doctrines of Parens Patriae and the Get-Tough Movement are similar since they guide the work of the juvenile justice system. They are for protection purposes. However, under parens patriae, the juvenile justice system takes actions to protect children whose conduct, interactions, and environment influence them to become delinquents. On the other hand, the doctrine of the get-tough movement aims to protect the community from the actions of juvenile offenders that disrupt the peace and safety. Therefore, the juveniles, in both cases, are incarcerated. However, the purpose of detainment under parens patriae is to rehabilitate, treat and reform the young offenders. Yet, at times, juvenile offenders are punished to deter them from committing crimes. But, they still receive rehabilitation services to change and acquire skills to live a crime-free life after their release. Consequently, although the doctrines of parens patriae and the get-tough movement have some differences, they are essential to the American juvenile justice system.



Fagan, J. (2010). The contradictions of juvenile crime & punishment. Daedalus, 139(3), 43-61.

Merlo, V. A., Champion, D.J, & Benekos, P.J (2016). The Juvenile Justice System: Delinquency, Processing, and the Law (8th Edition). Persons.