Sample Essay On Difference And Similarities Between Juvenile And Adult Justice System

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Juvenile, Law, Supreme Court, Crime, Criminal Justice, Justice, System, Adult

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2020/12/01


Juvenile delinquents have been treated differently both in theoretical and procedural actions of most legal systems. For example, juveniles have their separate court proceedings as well as correctional facilities than adults, which are also practiced in most countries around the world at a certain level. In the United States, the concept of a separate juvenile justice system have been highly influenced by British laws, which dates back to the time of King Ine from 688 AD and King Aethelstan from 925 AD. According to these laws, children could not be persecuted for certain crimes unless they reach a particular age wherein they are already considered as adults. This doctrine, commonly known in the legal circles as the doctrine of Doli Incapax, assumes that children are incapable of committing crime, at least theoretically. As an implication of the doctrine of Doli Incapax, whenever a juvenile becomes delinquent, social institutions such as schools, communities and especially families are often blamed, which is consistend with theories that emerged regarding juvenile deliquency. For the same reason, the juvenile justice system has developed differently from the adult justice system. Even so, despite the differences, there are also similarities between the two system. Based on the juvenile and adult justice system in the United States, this paper would like to examine the common differences and similarities between these two systems.

Theoretical Approach: Juvenile Vs Adult Justice System

Because of the common assumption that juveniles are emotionally and psychologically incapable of doing crime, the difference between juvenile and adult treatment of the justice system starts at apprehension. In crimes where juveniles are the culprit, law enforcement seem to exhude sympathy and leniency. However, this the liniency of law enforcers when apprehending juveniles is most likely related to the seriousness of the crime committed. On the contrary, studies have revealed that there is no difference on discretionary dispositions of officers in the arrest of juvenile and adults. In fact, most officers take extra precaution when dealing with juveniles because of their unpredictable behavior. Aside from the doctrine of Doli Incapax, the major theoretical approach to juvenile justice system is the state’s imphasis on rehabilitation for juveniles while punishment for adults. For the same reason, the juvenile legal system has been established with the aim to rehabilitate rather than punish the offender . As a result, juvenile delinquents are not housed in the same adult facility; whereby they are confined in facilities dedicated to juvenile delinquents. In line with this theoretical approach, juvenile delinquents are treated as if they are patients or clients of the correctional facilities wherein they are confined and not as offenders as what adult delinquents are being treated. As observed by Simpson, the juvenile system offers a rehabilitative model wherein the major assumptions are that “juvenile offenders will become adult criminals if they are not treated and that young offenders are particularly amenable to rehabilitative treatment”. For the same reason, programs in containment facilities between juvenile and adult varies. In adult prison, rehabilitation programs, if there are any, are not as extensive as what is found in juvenile delinquent institutions. Rehabilitation programs in juvenile facilities may include psychological therapy, vocational education and skills training for the purpose of avoiding recidivism and to prepare the juvenile for reinstatement with society.

Procedural Differences and Similarities

For quite some time before the 1960s, juvenile offenders have no formally established justice system. Though theoretically they must be tried as adults, most cases regarding juvenile offenders do not follow formal proceedings. As observed by Richards, “Despite the strong relationship between age and offending behavior, the majority of young people never come into formal contact with the criminal justice system”. While minors are treated less severely than adults, the lack of formal proceedings was a serious disadvantage as evidenced by the landmark case of Gerald Gault. Gault was accused of making an indecent phone call to a neighbor, which under such circumstances, would only merit a $50 fine and imprisonment for no more than two months as its maximum penalty. However, the judge ordered the court to confine Gault into a juvenile facility until he reached 21 so he can be charged as an adult. For six year, Gault’s freedom has been deprived for just a minor offense until the court ruled in favor of Gault after his parents’ appeal.
Today, there is an established juvenile justice system for juvenile offenders. And the major difference between juvenile and adult justice system is that justice proceedings for juvenile offenders are civil proceedings as opposed to being criminal. For the same reason, juvenile offenders are referred as delinquents and not criminals because of the civil nature of their proceedings. The decision to place juvenile offenders into formal court proceedings as well as whether they are placed on juvenile courts or adult courts depend on the age as well as the crime committed. In the United States, for example, a maximum age is set by the state for an individual to be considered as juvenille. Most states sets the maximum age at 18 while other states set their maximum at 16 or 17. Children below the age of 7 are automatically considered as incapable of doing a crime and despite the gravity of the offense, they are excused from being legally liable. Children aged 7 up to 14 is left for the judge to adjudicate whether they are guilty of a wrongdoing or not. If ever they are found guilty, children on these age bracket are sent to a juvenile court. On the other hand, children age 14 up to the maximum juvenile age can be tried in adult courts if the judge find the offender’s offense to be serious enough for juvenile court. Henious crimes and repeat offenders are usually the major reason why juveniles are transferred to adult court proceedings. On the other hand, minors can be arrested for offenses just by being a minor. Juvenile case records are also sealed while adult crime records are public.
Aside from these major differences between the juvenile and adult justice system, the rest of the rest of the constitutional rights that are enjoyed by adults also applies to juvenile offenders. Among the major similarities are: 1) the right to receive notice of charges; 2) the right to obtain legal counsel; 3) the right to confrontation and cross-examination; 4) the privilege against self-incrimination; 5) the right to receive a transcript of the proceedings; 6) and the right to have an appellate court review the lower court's decision .


Over the years, debates regarding how juveniles should be tried in court are not uncommon but still, the notion that minors are incapable of committing crime is prevalent, which led to the development of a juvenile justice system that is aimed at rehabilitation as opposed to punishment. Most would argue that society has a moral and ethical obligation towards minors; to train them and to ensure that they mature as responsible elements of society. However, recent issues regarding juvenile delinquency related to the increased rate and heneiousness of the crimes that they commit places attention to the difference between the juvenile and adult justice system. For the same reason, the juvenile justice system has evolved into a formal proceeding that has an element of adult justice system but different in some aspects.


Brown, R., Novak, K., & Frank, J. (2009). Identifying variation in police officer behavior between juveniles and adults. Retrieved February 2015, from
Crofts, T. (n.d.). Lagging behind Europe: The criminalisation of children in England. Retrieved February 2015, from
Dialogue on Youth and Justice. (n.d.). The History of Juvenile Justice. Retrieved February 2015, from
Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). JUVENILE JUSTICE. Retrieved February 2015, from
Michon, K. (n.d.). Juvenile Court: An Overview. Retrieved February 2015, from
Richards, K. (2011, February). What makes juvenile offenders different from adult offenders? Retrieved February 2015, from
Simpson, A. (1976). Rehabilitation as the Justification of a Separate Juvenile Justice System. Retrieved February 2015, from
The Department of Juvenile Services. (n.d.). History of Juvenile Justice in the United States. Retrieved February 2015, from
Wood, J., & Alleyne, E. (2010). Street gang theory and research: Where are we now and where do we go from here? Retrieved February 2015, from

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