The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office reported in December 2022, the state’s juvenile system processed 310 individuals. Going through the juvenile justice process is much different than having a case in the adult system.
The juvenile and adult justice systems serve different purposes and focus on distinct approaches to address legal issues. These differences help ensure age-appropriate treatment for young individuals who may find themselves in the legal system.
The primary focus of the juvenile justice system is on rehabilitation and providing guidance and support to ensure the young person does not commit future criminal acts. In the adult system, the focus is on punishing criminal activity.
The reason for this difference is the recognition that underage individuals are still developing and may not have the mental or emotional maturity to understand the effects of their actions. Also, due to their immaturity, they may be more susceptible to peer pressure, family issues or other influences that lead them to get in trouble.
Adults are already grown and mature, so the system assumes they are responsible for their own actions. They also have the ability to recognize bad decisions and understand the consequences that come with them.
Terminology between the two systems is also quite different as it reflects the underlying focus. For example, when an adult commits an offense, the system refers to it as a crime, but the juvenile system would call it a delinquent act.
The slight difference in terms is a direct reflection of the way the criminal justice system sees each situation. A crime is breaking the law and requires punishment, whereas a delinquent act is more of a bad behavior that the system can correct through rehabilitation.
The adult system is very formal and strict whereas the juvenile system is informal and more lenient. Again, this approach reflects the overall focus of punishing adults but rehabilitating young people. The juvenile system’s procedures rely heavily on education, counseling and community service instead of incarceration. The goal is to encourage the young person to not fall into a life of crime.
The justice system takes a different approach to juveniles and adults that recognizes juveniles have the potential to move forward without committing additional crimes if they get the right support and assistance. Ultimately, the idea is to help kids so they do not enter the adult justice system.