Juvenile Justice Part 2 – Kids are different than adults

The 3 findings that support kids are different than adults

Until I did my homework to understand the US juvenile justice system (see Juvenile Justice Part 1 on page 10) I continued to get frustrated when I see teens get charged as adults. I admit I didn’t understand what the law allowed and no one ever volunteered to explain it to me after writing on this topic several times.

Despite my new understanding of how and why juveniles are charged as adults, I’m always amazed that age isn’t taken into account when charging a youngster as an adult. It’s as if the law enforcement folks don’t have children or have never been a child themselves and maybe have forgotten how kids do stupid things.

Even the bible suggest there be some leniency toward children when in 1 Corinthians 13:11 it reads, “When I was a  child, I spoke as a  child, I understood as a  child, I  thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”  

As we learned in Part 1, juvenile justice got a lot tougher in the 80s and 90s as juveniles were being charged as adults in large numbers.

In the mid to late 90s, with the MacArthur Foundation help, a group of academics, researchers, and advocates came together to form the Research Network on Adolescent Development and juvenile justice which also involved the Temple University’s department of psychology.

They discovered and documented a growing body of brain science about juveniles and their capacity to behave correctly which helped determine how we can hold kids accountable in developmentally appropriate ways. They proved that kids are different. Their research finally gave proof that kids are less culpable for their criminal behavior including the most heinous crimes they’ve been charged with or convicted of.

The research was based on psychological behavior research looking at how kids performed and behaved in response to certain kinds of incidents or situations. Here are their top 3 findings:


Juveniles are immature in their judgment and in the choices they make. They’re impetuous and impulsive.


Juveniles are particularly susceptible to peer pressure and peer influence, especially negative peer influences. Kids tend to do things in groups. Then tend not to travel by themselves or do anything by themselves. Much juvenile crime is committed in groups and gangs with many co-defendants involved.


Kids have a unique capacity for change. Adolescence is a transitory stage of human development. It passes. Children change, they grow up, they mature. The kinds of impulses and attributes in adolescence that might have led them to make poor choices including poor criminal choices will abate. They have a special capacity for rehabilitation and reformation.

These solid research findings are what influenced the US Supreme Court to change some of laws with regard to juvenile justice (See Part 3 on page 12). With most justice decisions decided on the state level, the ultimate responsibility for how juveniles are treated in the justice systems is ultimately determined by individual state Supreme Courts and administered in local municipal court rooms.