Youth Offenders and the Adult Justice System

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“Youth offenders should not be dealt with more leniently than adult offenders.” Critically discuss this statement.

There are many controversial issues that challenge our society in contemporary times, but one that raises much debate is youth offenders and if they should be dealt with in the same way as adult offenders. In modern times people are no longer surprised when children commit crimes but rather than basing our judgement around personalised review of circumstances, offence committed, mental, social and intellectual factors we automatically believe that they are deviant and not likely to change. In this essay I argue that unless the juvenile poses a genuine threat to the safety of other juveniles, the severity of their offence warrants a more severe punishment or they have a history of repeated offending where rehabilitation has been exhausted, then juveniles should not be prosecuted in the adult system. There are many implications of transferring juveniles into the adult justice system and these need to be taken into consideration, such as, the variation in the youth and adult justice system, differences in mental, emotional and social competencies and the reason behind such behaviour.

If youth offenders are transferred to the adult court system this then alters the legal process by which a minor will be tried. The difference in juvenile versus adult is the youth courts are based more on a cooperative method with the aim of helping the offender to understand the impact of their actions. It is designed to correct and guide the youth so they become responsible and realise their potential to become a valuable member of the community.[1] The adversarial process is vastly different and in this system there is a presumed assumption of competence and understanding for the defendant. It is unfair to put a youth in the adversarial system as they may not be able to defend themselves due to their lack of psychological development and understanding of the criminal court.[2] It also raises the issue of judging culpability as these standards differ between the juvenile and adult courts. In the adult court system it is presumed that the defendant is responsible for their own behaviour, whereas, the validity of this presumption differs due to the juvenile’s age in youth court[3] along with the fact there is growing evidence that moral reasoning is not fully developed until our early 20’s[4].

If we start trying youths as adults then this means we start handing out the same punishment as adult offenders. In adult court, the outcome of being found guilty of a serious crime will end in some form of punishment, in many cases prison. If we start trying youths in this way and send them to adult prisons there will be many harmful consequences. One concern is “adult contamination” which is one reason why the two groups were divided and separate justice systems were developed.[5] Research has shown putting young people in with older prisoners leads to them learning more about crime than what they ever would outside of a prison or in a youth detention centre.[6] This in turn increases the rate of recidivism among young people as rehabilitation is less likely to work. A reason for this would be age appropriate intervention programs not being offered in the adult correction system, so education is lacking therefore not providing any opportunities or support to the youth once released.[7]

Take into consideration the developmental factors between the age of 12 and into our early to mid 20’s there are many rapid and dramatic changes physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially.[8] Youth offenders need to be offered a chance for rehabilitation because if they are labelled as an offender then there is a strong likelihood that they will live up to it. Recent studies have shown that if first time offenders are educated with crime prevention strategies, cautions or family conferences there is less chance of...
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