Juvenile Justice System

There is this perception in our society that those under 18 are under some type of legal protection or exemption. I used to think that if a teenager was tried as an adult then they would be susceptible to an unfair trial and that being sentenced as a juvenile was far better. I certainly do not agree with many ways that our U.S. justice system operates. I strongly believe that young people’s age should be a factor in understanding their motivation and capabilities. Therefore, charging a 16-year-old as an adult seems to be incredibly unjust. However still, juveniles are not awarded many of the same rights as adults and therefore may be getting a fairer trial but certainly not a fairer sentence. It is incredibly unreasonable to hold children to adult expectations; therefore, the juvenile justice system needs to be structured in a way that considers their age, allows them a fair trial and sentence. While also providing consistent and rehabilitative discipline that allows them to succeed as an adult.

Juvenile hearings are quite different than adult hearings, the Juvenile Law Center notes that “juvenile court hearings are often closed to members of the public and records are often confidential…however, despite what many people believe, juvenile records in most jurisdictions are not automatically sealed or expunged” (Juvenile Law Center, 2018). A juvenile record may follow an individual around throughout their life, making it difficult to be successful as an adult. Juveniles are not given the same rights as adults, thus having less protection when being accused or convicted and highly susceptible to manipulation. Furthermore, children are sentenced and tried by a judge, not a jury, which makes them highly vulnerable to discrimination. While also being subject to the judge’s personal opinions of the significance of the crime.

Remember the “kids for cash” scandal in Pennsylvania a few years back? This is a prime example of how the juvenile justice system is vulnerable to manipulation. Judges were found guilty of receiving a monetary commission for sentencing minors to juvenile detention centers (NPR, 2014). Judge Ciavarella took advantage of a system that allowed him to benefit from selling kid’s lives to juvenile detention centers for a profit (NPR, 2014). The juvenile system should not have space for Judge’s to have so much influence in one person’s life. Some of the children in the juvenile justice system lose years from their life based from one person’s sentence. This is different than the Adult justice system where adults are tried in front of a jury.

The article, Mandatory Minimums, Maximum Consequences discusses how federal law is reviving the “tough on crime approach” with juveniles (Steiner, 2017). This requires juveniles to be automatically tried as adults for certain crimes, therefore giving them an adult sentence. Therefore many have spent most, if not all their lives in jail for crimes they committed as teenagers. Steiner notes that a situation where Washington teens faced up to 45 years for stealing candy and cell phones while having a firearm on them (Steiner, 2017). Crimes committed by juveniles certainly need to be addressed and some situations may have more severe consequences on society. However, children should not be held to the same expectations as adults, because they are not mentally mature enough to understand the full consequences of their actions.

There are certainly issues with the juvenile justice system that we could discuss endlessly. The adult justice system in America is certainly no model to strive for. Though, suggesting that juveniles be treated to the same extent and with the same expectations as adults is unreasonable. Duplicating the adult justice system with juveniles, while also giving them less rights and protections is also highly problematic. I am simply suggesting that the juvenile justice system enact changes that truly reflect the child’s needs and ensure fair and ethical discipline. Instead of trying to transfer kids to the adult system or disregard their rights to fair trials and appropriate sentencing.


Juvenile Law Center (2018). Youth in the Justice System: An Overview. Retrieved from: http://jlc.org/news-room/media-resources/youth-justice-system-overview

NPR Staff (2014). ‘Kids For Cash’ Captures A Juvenile Justice Scandal From Two Sides. NPR. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/2014/03/08/287286626/kids-for-cash-captures-a-juvenile-justice-scandal-from-two-sides

Steiner, Emily (2017). Mandatory Minimums, Maximum Consequences. Juvenile Law Center. Retrieved from: http://jlc.org/blog/mandatory-minimums-maximum-consequences

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  1. I agree that the juvenile justice system should change. It can be very unfair for a child or teenager to receive the same punishment as an adult. Sentencing a teenager to many years in prison seems harmful. Children and teens committing crimes may come from harsh backgrounds. Therefore it may be helpful to enroll them in a program where they can receive the help that they need.

  2. I agree that the Juvenile Justice System could us an overhaul and holding those in their teen years, and even into their early twenties, to adult standards being somewhat unjust. For quick reference, and to provide support, I sought an article on development of the prefrontal cortex and found a website called How Stuff Works and an article entitled, Are teenage brains really different from adults? This article discusses how the prefrontal cortex of the brain is responsible for weighing outcomes, forming judgments, and controlling emotions and impulses, (Edmonds, n.d.). The article also explains by citing Kotulak, the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until your mid-20s, (Edmonds, n.d.). Without full development of this part of the brain teenagers and those up until their mid-20s do not have the same reasoning, judging and controlling capacities as an adult. This is the case even if they were cognizant of what they were doing when committing a crime it still doesn’t mean they have the capacity to control themselves. Anyone who has ever raised a teenager knows this is true [my hand is furiously waving in the air!]. When you are older and you look back on the things you have done, you often shake your head and ask yourself “what was I thinking?”

    The idea of those children and teenagers under 18 who are tried by a single judge in the Juvenile Justice System, I agree there is much room for bias and prejudice and personal opinion in sentencing. As well as the temptation of taking advantage of the system for personal gain you described. These judges are most likely not trained in child development and applied social psychology and you wonder if they are taking all factors into consideration when they are hearing cases. Are they aware of or looking to identify anti-social patterns and attitudes as described by Andrews and Bonta, (2002)? The five elements are: “(a) high tolerance for deviance in general, (b) rejection of the validity of the legal authority and institutions, (c) use of cognitive distortions to make one’s antisocial behavior acceptable [seems like this would be a powerful one when dealing with teenagers], (d) interpretation of a wide range of environmental stimuli as a reason for anger, and (e) a style of thinking that is generally antisocial, (as cited by Schneider, Gruman, & Couts, 2012, p.250). Do they understand adolescence-limited individuals who are engaging in delinquent activities as a means to leave childhood behind and prove they are growing up and becoming independent by conquering new challenges? (Schneider, et.al., 2012, p.251). Perhaps if they understood these factors and ways to ask questions to provide them with this type of insight, it may diminish some prejudice and bias they hold and help them see the real challenges and reasons for the delinquent behavior. This doesn’t mean there should not be consequences for juvenile delinquent actions, that is also a very important part of ensuring they don’t end up being a part of the life-course persistent group. Those who end up being delinquent as an adult following a lengthy and complex path involving antisocial behaviors and criminality, (Schneider, et.al., 2012, p.251). I think ensuring these judges have a strong educational background and perhaps the consultation of a psychologist or social worker (which I believe they may already have) would be more beneficial in ensuring the appropriate and helpful kind of justice is being given for adolescent delinquent behavior. I don’t really feel that a jury is the answer in these cases either, now you may end up with even more uneducated individuals with multiple prejudices and biases. I also have mixed feelings about keeping the records closed or having them expunged—I feel that is dependent on circumstances and the crime committed. While they may not yet have the capacity at this young age to make good judgments, etc., these records may or may not be beneficial in their future in getting them help they may not have received at a younger age. I do, however, understand your feelings of a minor who had challenges early on following them negatively through life, causing them hardship and perhaps serving as a driver to becoming part of the life-course persistent group. There are a lot of variables to take into consideration when looking at the Juvenile Justice system, but that doesn’t negate the need.


    Edmond, M. (n.d.). Are teenage brains really different from adult brains? How Stuff Works. Retrieved from: https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/teenage-brain1.htm

    Schneider, F., Gruman, J., & Couts, L. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed.). Thousands Islands, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

  3. I agree with you that the juvenile justice system can be unfair as to not being able to have a jury. However, I do feel that if a juvenile does something that warrants them to be in jail/get a record than the simple fact of them being a minor should not matter. I personally believe that if a juvenile does something so severe that warrants them jail time or a criminal record than they should get one regardless of their age. Whether they are considered a minor or not, they know what they are doing when they are doing it. I believe that age should not matter in this case, and they should have to get the punishment for the crime the committed. If we just left juveniles go because of their age, was lesson does that teach them? We need to be able to teach them that what they did is wrong, and they have to take responsibility for their actions.

  4. I believe that the Juvenile Justice system can be a bit tricky in terms of many aspects. I do agree to age plays a role in decisions made. But I also believe that people know right from wrong. Some juveniles are genuinely just evil and capable of premeditated crimes just like adults. I believe that the level of the crime and circumstances are more important details than just age alone. Some crimes are just way too far and too vicious to just get a slap on the wrist. I know mistakes happen, but we all know that there are consequences to our actions. From knowing some children in the juvenile system, it sometimes enables them, makes the feel invincible and often they go out and commit other crimes. I think it is horrible that only a judge decides the outcome of juveniles fate. It doesn’t seem fair because how can you trust one person on something so important. My question would be why don’t they have the process of having a jury for juvenile cases? In Juvenile detention centers do they have rehabilitation programs that stem outside of the centers, and if so are these programs mandatory? Do they have things other than a probation officer that is set up to try to show these kids other routes in life?

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