Juvenile Delinquency: Punishment and Sentencing

Juvenile offenders and related laws and legal procedures can be traced back to around 2270 BC during the time of the Code of Hammurabi which had provisions on how to deal with offending children. About two millenniums ago in the Roman Empire civil and church law distinguished between juvenile offenders and adult criminals based on the age of responsibility. Juvenile courts exist to deal with an offender who has not attained maturity age to be considered as an adult (Lawrence, 2004).

The main objective of juvenile court is to assist juveniles to become law-abiding adults by dealing with criminal behavior committed by juveniles or protecting a juvenile from harmful environments. The juvenile court refers to a set of rules that govern proceedings that involve children and does not refer to a place where such proceedings take place (Drakeford, Friedman & University of Maryland, 2001). The juvenile justice system is different from that of adult offenders. Therefore, the main purpose of this paper is to discuss various punishment philosophies associated with juvenile courts, the juvenile court process and how it differs from the adult court process, sanctions involved in the juvenile justice system, legal factors associated with sentencing and appeal process.

Various punishments especially those imposed by the juvenile court are based on various philosophical justifications. Retribution as a form of punishment is based on the theory that justifies punishment by looking at the past. Immanuel Kant was the main proponent of this theory. He maintained that each offender deserves to be punished for the crime committed. He argued that human life would be meaningless in this world if justice and righteousness is left to perish. Retributive theory dwells on the crime itself as a reason for imposing punishment. It looks in the past at the transgression which provides a reason for punishment.

The retributivists view human beings as having free will and in the position of making rational decisions. Individuals who make conscious choices to commit crimes need to be punished while insane offenders and those who are incompetent do not deserve punishment (Pelovangu, 2010).

On the same note, denunciation is a concept related to the retributive philosophy of punishment which considers society having value consensus. The state is taken as representative and capable of articulating such values held by society. For this reason, denunciation presumes entrusting and enforcing precedence order that has been accepted by all members of the society. If anyone fails to conform and goes beyond what is expected, such an individual deserves to be punished or denounced to set an example to the rest who may be tempted to do the same (Ibid).

Restitution or restorative justice is another important philosophy in justification for punishment. The main objective of restitution is to do good to the harm done in a sense that attention is shifted from the offender’s culpability to harm suffered. The approach of restorative justice reintegrates those who have done wrong to the civil society, restores harm done to the victims, and rebuilds community as well as deters crimes. Deterrence as another kind of punishment is based on philosophical justifications that fear of punishment is enough motivating factor to deter other persons from committing future offenses (Pelovangu, 2010).

Finally, rehabilitation as a form of punishment is based on a philosophy that penal measures can result in change. This one, in particular, is the most influential in the juvenile justice system. Juvenile offenders as opposed to adult offenders are considered in need of moral education. This philosophy has seen the emergence of treatment centers, probation, indeterminate sentences, and bale axiomatically (Pelovangu, 2010).

The juvenile justice system differs from that of the adult or criminal justice system. One of the aspects it differs from the criminal system is in terms of the absence of guilt. It is considered that juveniles are less mature and most of the time not aware of repercussions that arise from their actions. In that sense, they are not legally held responsible for their actions in the same way as adults. Legally speaking, juveniles are not found guilty of the crimes but rather they are viewed to be delinquent in their actions. Another aspect that distinguishes juveniles from the criminal justice system is that juvenile court is meant for the treatment of the child offender and community protection unlike imposition of punishment to adult offenders (Lawrence, 2004).

When juvenile court proceedings are on, it has informal hearings which are not open to the public. It is conducted in presence of parents, the child who committed the offense, attorneys, and the probation officer in the chamber of the judge. Proceedings take ten minutes at most. Such practice is based on the philosophy of saving the child and therefore court is not meant for punishing the child but for treatment. Another feature that makes the juvenile court process different from that of the adult is that juvenile offenders are always kept separately from adults all through the juvenile process starting from the time being taken into custody, pretrial stage, court proceeding, probation supervision, and finally to institutions of corrections (Ibid).

Compared to adult offenders, the duration of probation supervision and commitment to a correctional facility is normally shorter. Different terminologies are used that are in line with the objectives of the juvenile justice system to treat the juvenile and not to punish. Instead of arresting the juvenile, the term used is being taken to custody. Where adults are booked into jail, juveniles are transported to the detention center. Legal terms such as filling a petition for delinquency instead of the criminal indictment are used (Lawrence, 2004).

As such, the juvenile justice process significantly differs from the criminal justice process in that the juvenile justice system aims at rehabilitation while protecting youth from publicity, negative implications which may occur from being in contact with adult offenders, and associated trauma from hash sentences. Presiding judges at the juvenile court have wider discretionary powers than in adult courts. They also focus more on rehabilitation than punishment. The adult criminal justice process commences by arrest or summons but for juvenile’s parents, school or any other source may be used to refer the child to the court (Drakeford, Friedman & University of Maryland, 2001).

In the juvenile justice process, most of the cases are referred by law enforcement while the rest are done by parents, probation offices, and schools. When juvenile cases get refereed by prosecutor facts are reviewed to ascertain whether there is sufficient ground to prove the allegation (Lipsey, Howell & Kelly, et al, 2010)

Half of the cases in juvenile court intake are handled informally and most of these cases are dismissed. If the case is not dismissed, the juvenile has to agree without coercion to some given conditions. These written conditions in legal terms are referred to as consent decrees. Some of the examples of the consent decree may include victim restitution school attendance and curfew. If the juvenile accepts committing the offense, informal disposition may be offered. Then assigned probation officer does monitoring to ensure that there is compliance with what was informally agreed. This is known as informal probation. If there is compliance according to what was agreed the case is terminated (Drakeford, Friedman & University of Maryland, 2001).

Where the juvenile fails to adhere to the specific conditions which were agreed upon during informal disposition, juvenile court through intake decision may have no other option apart from making formal prosecution of the case. As the case proceedings continue, the juvenile may be put into a secure detention facility. This occurs when the juvenile court considers that it would be in the community’s or child’s best interest to do detention. A juvenile is brought to a local juvenile detention facility by a law enforcer and probation officers review the case and determine if he or she will keep remaining in custody before a hearing of the case by the judge.

Normally, detention should not be more than twenty-four hours. Judges make a review of the case and decide if more detention is necessary and at this point, the offender may be released for a hearing or continue to remain in the detention facility (Drakeford, Friedman & University of Maryland, 2001).

When a juvenile is finally settled to be delinquent, the court prepares a disposition plan through the probation officer who assesses available support systems and programs that may be of value to the juvenile. During the presentation of these recommendations to the presiding judge, both the juvenile and the prosecutor may be present. Based on the options presented to the judge he or she makes a ruling on the case dispositions.

The judge may likely commit the juvenile into a residential placement as incarceration for a certain period. It is possible that when a juvenile is set free from a rehabilitation institution aftercare may be ordered where such juvenile monitored is to see if there has been a positive behavior change. If the juvenile has not improved, he or she may be sent to another facility or the same for recommitment (Drakeford, Friedman & University of Maryland, 2001).

In the appeal process for juvenile court’s final orders or decrees, it is not different from other cases in the criminal justice system except that if the juvenile is under custody priority is given to such cases (Siegel, & Welsh, 2010). There are different types of appeals such as regular adjudication and disposition, appeal from order modification for former juvenile court disposition, and appeal from an order that has committed a child to either mentally ill or retarded facility among others. Like in the USA, such appeals have to go first to a suitable court of appeals and then move to Texas Supreme Court. When a parent, child, or guardian requests an appeal, it is the attorney who represents the juvenile court responsible for filing the appeal and the trial court appoints an attorney to handle the juvenile’s appeal (Icenhauer-Ramirez, 2009).

Therefore, the juvenile court refers to a set of rules that govern proceedings that involve children and does not refer to a place where such proceedings take place. The main difference between the adult and criminal justice system with the juvenile justice system is that while the main aim of the criminal justice system is to punish, the juvenile justice system focuses on the treatment of the juvenile. Juvenile cases can be determined informally or formally. The appealing process for the juvenile case is not different from that of criminal cases but if it involves a juvenile in custody such a case is given priority.


Drakeford, W., Friedman, K., & University of Maryland (2001). History of the criminal justice system. Web.

Icenhauer-Ramirez , L. (2009).The juvenile appellate process. Web.

Lawrence, M. (2004). History and development of the juvenile court and justice process. Web.

Lipsey, W. M., Howell, C. J., Kelly, R. M., Chapman, G., & Carver, D. (2010). Improving the effectiveness of juvenile justice program. Web.

Pelovangu, R. (2010). The Philosophies of Punishment. Web.

Siegel, L. J., & Welsh, B. C. (2010). Juvenile Delinquency: The Core. New York: Cengage.

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LawBirdie. "Juvenile Delinquency: Punishment and Sentencing." March 23, 2023. https://lawbirdie.com/juvenile-delinquency-punishment-and-sentencing/.