juvenile | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Juvenile Justice

In the criminal justice context, a juvenile refers to a person who is under the age of majority, which is typically 18 years old in most jurisdictions.

Juveniles are distinct entities within the criminal justice system. They’re considered less culpable for their actions than adults, primarily due to their age and corresponding lack of maturity. Therefore, they’re overseen by a separate set of laws and rules uniquely tailored for their age group.

The goal of these distinctive regulations is not merely to punish young offenders but to assist them in correcting their course. This approach is grounded in the understanding that they may commit crimes out of immaturity or lack of experience. With appropriate intervention and support, they can be steered towards a more responsible and law-abiding path.

Juvenile Justice System

Juvenile justice systems function with a different perspective than adult criminal justice systems. They emphasize rehabilitation over punishment, aiming to provide juveniles with the tools and support they need to avoid future crimes.

Youth offenders undergo processing through a specialized court system, the juvenile court. These courts are crafted to concentrate on rehabilitation rather than retribution. They take an individualized approach to justice, focusing on the specific needs and circumstances of each juvenile.

Juvenile Court

A juvenile court is a type of court that deals specifically with young offenders. The structure, proceedings, and even the terminology of juvenile court differ substantially from adult court. For instance, the court uses terms like “adjudication” instead of “conviction” and “disposition” instead of “sentence.” This rewording reflects the focus on rehabilitation and acknowledges the capacity of the juvenile for change and growth.

Tried as Adults

There are exceptions to every rule, and the juvenile justice system is no different. Under certain circumstances, youthful offenders might be tried as adults. This usually happens when the crime committed is especially serious or violent, such as murder or sexual assault.

The decision to try them as an adult depends on various factors. The nature of the crime, the age of the offender, and their previous criminal record are all considerations. The aim here is not to be harsh but rather to ensure that the gravity of certain offenses is appropriately acknowledged.

Rehabilitation over Retribution

The overarching theme of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation rather than retribution. While adults are presumed to fully understand their actions and their consequences, the same isn’t true for juveniles. They are in a stage of life characterized by growth, learning, and potential for change.

By focusing on rehabilitation, the juvenile justice system offers a chance for these young individuals to turn their lives around. The belief is that with the right guidance and support, juveniles who have committed crimes can reform and lead productive, law-abiding lives.

Wrap Up

To summarize, a juvenile in the context of criminal justice refers to an individual who hasn’t reached the legal age of adulthood. These young individuals are addressed differently in the legal system due to their age and associated lack of life experience.

With its focus on rehabilitation over punishment, the juvenile justice system provides these young people with a chance to learn from their mistakes and transform their lives for the better. This approach is based on the belief in the inherent capacity of young individuals to change and develop into responsible citizens.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/28/2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.