Juvenile Justice Process


Youth Offenders

  • Although based on the adult criminal justice system, the juvenile justice process works differently. Juveniles can end up in court by way of arrest, truancy or for curfew violations or running away. A youth may also be referred to the juvenile court system by school officials or a parent or guardian for being continuously disobedient. According to an article published in "Time" (March 24, 2009), the courts handle more than 1.6 million juvenile cases in the U.S. each year. Of that number, upward of 90,000 or more of the youths are presently incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities.


  • The juvenile justice process involves several different steps including intake, detention, adjudication, disposition and aftercare following release from a juvenile correctional facility. It is at the intake stage that the prosecutor determines whether to refer the case to juvenile court. This is similar to what is known as prosecution in the adult criminal justice system. Several factors are evaluated during the intake process. The evidence is reviewed and the seriousness of the offense is considered along with whether the juvenile has a previous history with the juvenile court. Following review of these factors a case may be dismissed, handled informally or the juvenile may be held in detention awaiting a formal hearing before a judge.


  • The informal disposition of a case will require that the juvenile agree to certain conditions for a specified period of time. A probation officer will be responsible for seeing that the youth complies with the terms of the agreement. These may include regular attendance at school, abiding by a designated curfew and participating in individual, drug and/or family counseling. In some cases, a juvenile may be required to make restitution or complete a predetermined number of community service hours. Disposition or sentencing for those juveniles for whom an adjudication hearing is scheduled may include confinement in a detention center, placement in a group home or juvenile correctional facility for rehabilitation, a length of probation, counseling, restitution or community service.


  • While juveniles have many of the same rights as adults in the criminal justice system, there are some major differences. Whereas adults can be arrested, juveniles are taken into temporary custody for questioning related to a complaint. Adults also have the right to be tried for a crime before a jury of their peers. Youth offenders have no right to a jury trial, but instead go before a judge who determines if the youth has committed the offense. If a case is proved against the juvenile, the judge will determine sentence. Before the disposition of a juvenile case is decided, the court takes a number of issues into account. Review of the facts surrounding the case, the strengths and weaknesses of the family and preventing the juvenile from being unnecessarily separated from his family are all factors that are considered. The court will also take a look at the juvenile's social, medical and school history for evidence that the youth may be inclined to commit future delinquent acts.


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