Youth Offence: Why Young People are Treated Differently than Adults by Criminal Justice

Judge watching prosecution in court

When facing the consequences of a potentially serious crime, young people are frequently treated much differently than adults. The criminal justice system does handle adults and juveniles in different ways, primarily based on their age. However, many people struggle to understand why there is this subtle difference between the consequences of an adult’s crime and a child’s crime. Shouldn’t the punishment be equal across the board for everyone?

There’s an inherent flaw in issuing an equal consequence for everyone who commits the same crime. If we were to do this in our current justice system, we would lose all of the ability to have subtle nuance in our sentencing. Instead, we rely on a few of these primary differences to help explain why youth offences are treated differently than those committed by an adult.

Maturity Levels

Children under the age of eighteen have a much lower maturity level than most adults. This can lead to impulsive actions where a child may not have thought their choices all the way through before acting on them. You might also be aware that children lack the ability to plan for the future in the same manner as an adult. The developmental differences between children and adults can be significant. Youth offences are often treated differently because children lack the cognitive capacities of an adult.  

Instead, the criminal justice system focuses on helping children learn to take responsibility for their actions in order to achieve a healthier community reintegration later. They can help to increase a youth’s maturity to level to prevent recidivism in the future. This is also why the access to juvenile records is incredibly restricted. Criminal justice prevents children from being haunted by their misdoings as a result of their developmental and maturity levels.

Behavior Malleability

Children can be easily swayed and taught to change their actions over a long period of time. It might require a lot of intentional work, but it is definitely possible to see a positive shift for the future. It’s this malleability that allows the criminal justice system to treat children differently than adults. With intensive work and programs, youth can learn to make wiser decisions that support their community instead of the criminal ones that led to placement in the juvenile justice system.

As a result, juvenile justice adds an extra focus on rehabilitating its members. They provide treatments and interventions to help reintegrate them successfully back into the community once their term is over.

Because of the inherent differences between youth offences and their adult counterparts, criminal justice does tend to take a different approach. Children can be evaluated using a psychological framework that includes their social history whereas adults are judged solely on the crime they committed.

Whether you need criminal defence representation for a youth or an adult, you want to find one of the best. Matthew Gould can help you to expertly navigate the criminal justice system for a more favorable outcome to your next trial or hearing.