Adult and Juvenile Justice Comparison

Courts exist throughout the world to ensure that justice is served. While the human race is differentiated into people of different ages, courts in the United States are differentiated into adult and juvenile courts. This literature presents the difference between the two courts mentioned.

Snyder et al (2009) note that, “the first court designed to deal specifically with children in Chicago one hundred years ago and led to the development of a separate juvenile system nationwide.” the juvenile court system was established out of the need to protect and accord special treatment to children.

The term adult is used to refer to a person who is above adolescence and is capable of making rational decisions. Juvenile in this case, according to the United States courts applies to any person who has not attained the age of majority. This age bracket covers those between adolescence and the threshold of adulthood. The difference emphasized is the kind of treatment emphasized and support offered to the two age brackets. The recent times, however, there have been changes in policy that have led to treating children as if they were adults. According to a national report by the National Center for Juvenile Justice, 10,000 cases were waived to criminal court by juvenile court judges in 1996 in the United States Justice system.

To avoid abuse of minors, the law makes a clear distinction on how both are to be handled when brought to court. The term delinquency is used to refer to juveniles brought to court while the term ‘crime’ is used as regards adults. When an adult breaks the law the first responsibility of the police is to make an arrest while for a juvenile, the police officer has various options ranging from m warning to making a referral to a community-based organization.

Another point of difference regards the focus of proceedings instituted against adults and juveniles. When dealing with juveniles the main focus is on the rehabilitation of the offenders. The best interests of the accused are normally the priority and cases are generally resolved within four months. On the contrary, cases involving adults take months to resolve and no special considerations are accorded to them as the courts focus is on the community and victim safety. Upon reaching the juvenile court, the case can have adjustments made to it while adult offenders must take a plea of being either guilty or not guilty.

There are also differences between adult and juvenile courts in terms of the protection of offenders. Before passing judgment, juvenile courts consider the nature of the offense together with the age of the juvenile and in cases where it finds that the nature of the crime does not necessitate being tried as an adult, proceedings are instituted in the juvenile court. A case to illustrate this point is the case of a 14-year-old who steals food because of hunger. Such a case is likely to be heard in the juvenile court because the nature of the crime is not severe and most importantly because of the age of the offender.

There have been arguments as to whether the distinction of courts into adult and juvenile courts has helped in reforming and deterring offenders. Others have even called for its total unification so as to have one court trying all offenders regardless of age and severity of the offence committed. What is needed however is the strengthening of the support institutions that aid the two courts.


Snyder, H., & Sickmund, M. (2009). “Juvenile Victims and Offenders: 1999 National Report,” Juvenile and Family Court Journal, 50(4): 21-27.

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