What Makes Juvenile Offenders Different From Adult Offenders?

Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team

Read our guide to find out what makes juvenile offenders different from adult offenders. There are many characteristics that make juvenile offenders different from their adult counterparts, including the reasons why young offenders commit crimes and the way the justice system deals with the sentencing of juveniles.

What makes juvenile offending different?

There are many factors that differ between adult offenders and juvenile offenders in terms of both the circumstances under which crimes are committed in the first place, and the way the court deals with young offenders.

Sentencing is normally more lenient for young offenders because the court takes into account the disparity between adults and juveniles. Keep reading to learn about the reasons juveniles may commit crimes.

Peer pressure and risky behaviour during adolescence

Adolescence is a part of life where an individual undergoes many physical and mental changes. Because the brain changes rapidly during this time, risk taking behaviours may increase, decision making abilities may be compromised and the understanding of consequences is much lesser than that of an adult.

In comparison, adult brains are fully developed, and the justice system takes this into account when sentencing juveniles and adults. There are also physical changes in both arousal and motivation due to puberty, and young people often feel invincible and may underestimate risks to themselves and others around them.

Another significant factor relating to why young people commit crimes is peer influence. Social interactions are a very important part of a young person’s life, and if peers are engaging in risky behaviours, this may cause the young person to seek validity and follow the crowd to avoid negative emotional experiences or increase positive emotions associated with being accepted by their social group.

Young people tend to take part in more risky behaviours more often compared to adults. This might include alcohol and drug abuse, delinquent behaviours such as vandalism or assaults, dangerous driving and unsafe sex.

These behaviours may increase excitement and positive emotions, and may also cause young people to meet other peers who also engage in these behaviours frequently, therefore increasing the likelihood of offending.

Adolescents demonstrate a strong reliance on their peers, and due to their immaturity they may not fully understand the risk of harm when engaging in dangerous activities.

Higher chance of young people being victims of crime

Not only are young people more likely to offend due to physical, mental and social changes, they are also more likely to be victims of crime.

People aged between 15 and 24 years old are more likely to be victims of assault than any other age group. Juveniles are also more likely to be victims of sexual offences than adults. Because young people have a higher likelihood of being a crime victim, the line between young victims and young offenders can sometimes be blurred.

It is also important to consider that being a victim of crime may make some young people more likely to commit crimes themselves.

Mental illnesses and learning disabilities 

High rates of mental illness are common among adolescents due to social and emotional pressures and hormonal changes during puberty.

Mental illness has connotations with offending behaviour, which means that a higher instance of mental illness among young people may be predictive of higher rates of criminal actions. It is also more common for young people in the care of the judicial system to have learning disabilities. Learning disabilities may also make people more likely to commit crimes.

Juvenile offending normally impacts society on a lesser scale both socially and economically. The justice system considers all of the above factors and the separate needs of juvenile offenders compared to their adult counterparts when conducting sentencing.

This usually leads to a lesser sentence for juveniles, and is the reason why juveniles can opt to have their records sealed when they reach adulthood. Read below to find out what factors the courts take into consideration when dealing with a juvenile case.

Juveniles can grow out of crime as they age

When juveniles become adults, their levels of maturity may increase and their willingness to engage in risk-taking behaviours may decrease as their brains become fully developed and they take on new responsibilities.

As adults, people tend to have more to lose in terms of family and career prospects and understand the impact an adult criminal record can have on the rest of their lives.

Young people require more care than adults

Juvenile detention centres are full of resources to help care for young offenders and turn them onto a new, law-abiding path as they approach adulthood.

Young people require more intensive care than adult offenders, so normally have much more supervision when they stay in detention centres. Juvenile offenders still go to school while serving their sentence, and even if they have not been incarcerated, lots of work goes into rehabilitating them due to the above factors.

Juvenile offenders have more needs

Lots of young offenders have mental health issues, learning disabilities, problems at home and substance abuse issues. These factors are more likely to be a problem for young offenders than their adult counterparts, so it’s important that a lot of work goes into social care and rehabilitation for the offender.

Juvenile offenders are normally more affected by social and emotional issues and so they must be cared for in a more sensitive way to adults. Dealing with juveniles in this manner may help them to be rehabilitated more effectively and bring them safely back into the community.

Final thoughts

Although juvenile offending can still greatly impact an individual’s life and future, young people are afforded more leniency and rehabilitation prospects than their adult counterparts, because it is taken into account that as they become adults, they will become fully developed and may completely turn away from criminal acts.