Essay on Juvenile vs. Adult offenders- A process for first-time juvenile offender versus an adult offender

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Juvenile vs. Adult offenders


Since equality is the foundation of the US Constitution, its justice system also entails that every citizen, irrespective of race, religion, gender and financial status, is given equal protection. This was applicable in case of the age of offenders as well, where in the 1700s, both adult and child offenders were treated in the US court on equal terms; but this changed since the first juvenile court was formed in 1899, Illinois (Willison et al., 2010). The Society for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency along with the Juvenile Court System works on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (1974) (JJDPA), based on the idea of differentiating between delinquents and abandoned youth (Title 42 USC, Chapter 72), thereby recognizing the fact that there’s a difference in the cognitive development of juvenile offenders to those of adult criminals and that the former may benefit more from rehabilitation over harsh punishment in order to make sure that recidivism can be prevented in future (National Institute of Justice, 2018).


The rise in rates of crimes in the 1980s reaffirmed the belief of certain legislators to be tough on crime which led to the transfer of many juvenile offenders to adult courts (such as the passing of Ballot Measure 11, November 1994, Oregon requiring the trial of offenders aged above 15years in adult criminal court for certain violent crimes) and the passing of more punitive juvenile justice laws (passage of Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, 1994, Pub.L.103-332, 108 Stat.1796) )(Americanbar.org, 2018). However, it was observed that this step led to a higher rate of recidivism for juveniles prosecuted in adult court with respect to those in juvenile courts (as in Mason and Chang, 2001, where re-arrest rates among youths incarcerated in adult courts, Miami increased). Since the Juvenile justice system is founded upon the basis that young minds are malleable, bigger emphasis is laid on rehabilitation and parole surveillance to reintegrate juveniles back into community; whereas emphasis is laid on deterrence for offenders in the Criminal justice system which is mainly obtained through punishment over rehabilitation and strict surveillance of behaviour for parole sanctions (PBS, 2018). Juvenile records are usually kept from public to avoid unnecessary future stigmatization (though as of May,2015 two-thirds of states had no legislations restricting employer’s use of criminal record for recruitment) and only a few states allow jury trial in a juvenile case; whereas adult criminals are put on trial with an open access to their records (Digitalcommons.law.villanova.edu, 2018). 

Usually a juvenile is determined delinquent instead of guilty and their sentencing (barring 15 American states which authorize death penalty for capital homicide offenders under 18years of age) includes rehabilitation and restitution component unlike that in case of adult offenders. Due to such distinct formative processes followed in each of these two justice systems, where a psychological evaluation of the juvenile is predominant in assessing their casework whereas legal facts and/or criminal history is predominant in that for adult offenders, the efficiency gets compromised when a juvenile is brought to an adult court or an adult offender is tried through juvenile laws.


With the increase in number of defendants, comparatively more people have been involved in alternative sentencing, creating a huge caseload on the limited number of probationary officers to personally monitor individual probationers and parolees. This, along with the rise in crime rates, led to more juveniles being tried in adult court and leading to a rise in rates of recidivism. This further occurs due to absence of preventive detention (through models like Multi-systemic Therapy for Emerging Adults to prevent recidivism) and guidance (like that of Iowa Collaboration for Youth Development Council which examines youth related issues across agencies) to juveniles combined with exposure to an environment of adult criminals acting as their teachers. Similarly due to limited availability of proper resources in the police, court and parole system to monitor and guide an adult criminal to a better life, it’s not possible to apply juvenile justice methods in adult courts, irrespective of the nature of offense committed.  

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