Juvenile criminal justice is a legal system for children or youths. It is an alternative to trying children or youths in adult court systems. Unlike adult systems, juvenile legal systems tend to focus on rehabilitation rather than on a punishment for the crime. This philosophy maintains that youths are not as developmentally advanced as adults, and they have a greater chance of being rehabilitated because they are young.
Age limits for youthful offenders are set by laws. Youths younger than 18, for example, might be tried under the juvenile criminal justice system. Some youthful offenders might be tried as adults, however, depending on their age and the severity of the crime. An attorney who specializes in juvenile law can best advise defendants and their families on how a case is likely to be tried.
Privacy is often protected under juvenile criminal justice system proceedings. Unlike an adult criminal proceeding, juvenile court records can be sealed, which means that the records cannot be viewed by members the public. This is justified as a way to keep the focus on rehabilitation. Sealing records helps youths avoid the long-term consequences and stigma associated with having a criminal record.
After a youthful offender is taken into custody, law enforcement personnel might place the youth in a holding center for personal protection or to protect society at large. The terms and actions taken in a juvenile criminal justice also are different from in the adult criminal justice system. Juvenile proceedings typically involve hearings, not trials. In the United States, for example, a juvenile offender might be found delinquent, not guilty. Depending on laws, a jury trial might or might not be granted.
Similar to any criminal proceeding, the youthful offender’s history and any prior arrests are taken into account when determining the punishment. Types of punishment might include being assigned to a youth prison center, staying in a group home or attending a boot camp program. Depending on the length and nature of punishment, there might also be a program to reintroduce the youth to society. One of the concerns with juvenile justice systems is whether they provide an adequate education for the youths. Failing to provide an adequate education could cause the youths to have difficulty completing school or obtaining higher-education goals.
The rehabilitative aspect of the juvenile criminal justice system might continue after the punishment is completed. This could include mandatory placement in counseling or another rehabilitative program. The program might continue until it is deemed that the youth has been rehabilitated or until he or she reaches a certain age.