Why are there differences between juvenile and adult justice systems?

Why are there differences between juvenile and adult justice systems?

            One of the main reasons that there are differences between the juvenile and adult justice systems is that minors who are arrested for committing a crime have a different nature from adult criminals. Moreover, it is also believed that these minor criminal offenders or juveniles have different motives and purposes than the true adult criminals. In other words, juvenile offenders or criminals may not necessarily want to commit crimes and may have different reasons for doing so.

            In the past, there was no juvenile justice system nor was there a special court for offenders who are minors. Minors who commit crimes during that time were arrested, placed under the custody of authorities, tried and sentenced by the same courts that handle adult criminal cases. (Answers.com, 2008) Moreover, these courts also decide whether to place arrested juveniles in the same prison cell as the adult ones. In addition, although these juvenile offenders were treated the same way as adults, they were not given the same rights that were given to their adult counterparts. For example, during that time, minors were not given the right to indictment by grand jury, right to a public trial, and right to bail (Answers.com, 2008).

However, after some time, social views, particularly the views towards the treatment of juvenile criminals, began to change. Based on various researches and discoveries by psychologists, it was shown that there were a lot of social and psychological factors that led minors to commit crimes. Although these young criminals were guilty of violating laws, it was shown that they were only misguided individuals who have simply lost their way (Answers.com, 2008). It was also believed that treating juvenile criminals the same way as adult criminals would cause massive trauma to them and would hinder their development and productivity. Thus, a special court or a juvenile justice system was created in 1899, which would cater specifically to the emotional, psychological and social needs of juvenile offenders and would properly guide and rehabilitate them so that they may become productive members of society in the future.

In general, although the juvenile and adult justice systems are highly different from one another, they also have certain similarities. Possibly there most basic similarity is their purpose. Just like the adult justice system, the main focus of the juvenile justice system is more on rewarding good behavior exhibited rather than simply punishing bad acts (Office of Justice Programs, 2008). On the other hand, their most common difference is the age of the criminals being tried in court. In most American states, those who are considered minors are people who are aged 7 to 17. Those aged 18 and above are already considered adults and are tried according to the tenets of the current justice system in place.

Moreover, both the juvenile and adult courts systems begin same way. Both start to function when there is a reported crime and when officials are able to arrest the suspect. However, it is after this point that they start to differ. In most adult criminal cases, after an arrest has been made, the concerned law enforcement agency will then provide information pertinent to the case and the suspect to the prosecutor, who will subsequently decide if formal charges will be made. If the prosecutor decides not to press charges, the accused must be released from detention (United States Department of Justice, 2004). On the other hand, in the juvenile justice system, before a formal arrest is actually done, there are many people other hand law enforcement personnel, who refer juvenile suspects to juvenile courts. These people may include school officials, neighbors, and even parents who may have seen errant behavior in the suspected juvenile criminal that requires the intervention by the justice system or the social control agencies (United States Department of Justice, 2004). In addition, in the juvenile justice system, once an arrest has been made, it is decided whether to send the case further into the appropriate justice system or divert it out of the system, usually to alternative programs. These programs may include recreational or rehabilitation facilities, educational programs, group or individual counseling, and drug treatment, among others (United States Department of Justice, 2004).

Furthermore, in the adult system, after formal charges have been made against a suspect, he or she must be taken to a magistrate or a judge without delay for the initial appearance. At this point, the magistrate or judge informs the suspect of his or her charges and then determines if there is probable cause to imprison the accused (United States Department of Justice, 2004). If the judge does not find probable cause, the case is consequently dismissed. However, if or she finds probable cause, the case may be referred to the grand jury, who determines if the accused should be brought to trial. If it does find evidence, it then gives the court an indictment, which states the facts of the offense charged against the suspect (United Sates Department of Justice, 2004).

In the juvenile justice system, on the other hand, when juvenile cases are referred to juvenile courts and not diverted out of the system, the prosecuting attorney then decided whether there is adequate basis for the accused juvenile to be transferred to a criminal court or if there should be an adjudicatory hearing. It is also at this point that most juvenile suspects are released or diverted to rehabilitation programs (United States Department of Justice, 2004). If the petition for adjudicatory hearing is granted, the juvenile suspect may then be brought to a court unlike the court within the jurisdiction of the case in adult offenders (United States Department of Justice, 2004).

Based on the basic differences between the two systems, it can then be said that the reason that there is a separate juvenile justice system from the main justice system is due to various social and psychological differences between a juvenile offender and an adult criminal. The juvenile may simply need guidance and rehabilitation in order to be corrected and did not necessarily intend to commit a crime. On the other hand, adult criminals, due to their maturity and age, more often than not, commit a crime with full intent.


Answers.com. (2008). American Juvenile Justice System. Retrieved October 23, 2008 from http://www.answers.com/topic/juvenile-justice-system-history-of-juvenile-courts.

Answers.com (2008). Juvenile Justice System: History of Juvenile Courts. Retrieved October 23, 2008 from http://www.answers.com/topic/juvenile-justice-system-history-of-juvenile-courts.

Office of Justice Programs. (2008). Juvenile Justice. Retrieved October 23, 2008 from http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/assist/nvaa/ch21-4jj.htm.

United States Department of Justice. (2004). The Justice System. Bureau of Justice. Retrieved October 23, 2008 from http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/justsys.htm.