The Youth Justice System and How it Works

The criminal liability of youths between the ages of 14 and 18 are regulated by special laws. Today's article discusses these laws and their effects.
The Youth Justice System and How it Works

Last update: 13 October, 2021

The basis for establishing the limits on which youths are responsible or not for criminal actions is merely biological. This is because children aren’t mature enough to understand the consequences of their actions, as opposed to adults who are assumed to be. Therefore, minors don’t have the same responsibilities and can’t go to jail. The same applies to others with special circumstances. For example, the mentally disabled.

Justice systems in various countries have established that minors under 14 years of age are not imputable. This means that they can’t be held criminally responsible for a crime. However, they become accountable as soon as they reach the age at which a person becomes an adult for legal purposes. As adults, everyone is subject to the same rules. Consequently, their actions have the same consequences.

Therefore, youths under the age of 18 are an exception. Indeed, the criminal liability of minors is regulated by special laws in most countries. They include rules and less severe sentences than those established in criminal law.

“Rehabilitate instead of Incarcerate.”

-Bert McCoy-

A seemingly angry child.

Youths in the justice system

People become imputable after the age of 14. That’s because it’s presumed that they’re then able to understand the consequences of their actions. Consequently, they can be held accountable for the same.

However, the penalties imposed aren’t the same as for adults until they reach the age of 18. Therefore, the criminal responsibility of minors applies to people under the age of 18 years. Moreover, the interests of minors prevail in these particular laws.

These laws seek to reeducate and reintegrate minors into society. For this reason, they don’t involve punishment but rather socio-educational measures for the crimes committed.

Penalties for youths in the justice system

A juvenile judge dictates the measure to be served by the minor. It usually varies depending on the crime committed. It could be one of the following:

Closed, semi-open, or open internment

A minor can’t go to prison as an adult can. They may be held in juvenile centers.

These centers might be closed or semi-open,  and the minors must reside there for a set amount of time. A semi-open scenario allows them to carry out certain training or work activities outside the center.

The juvenile center could also be open. In this case, the minors carry out all the activities of their educational project outside the center. In fact, they only live in the center, it being their official place of residence.

Therapeutic internment

This measure focuses on minors who need special educational attention or treatment. These are minors experiencing psychological disorders or who are considered dependent. In these cases, the minor usually presents serious alterations in the perception of reality.

Attendance at a day-care center and probation

Attendance at a day center generally means the minor resides in their usual home. However, they must attend a specific center to carry out work and support activities focused on their education and reintegration into society.

A minor on probation must follow a training program focused on social reintegration. They attend school, a vocational training center, or a place of work in a constant and controlled manner. In addition, their correct development and evolution must be monitored at all times.

What happens if the minor turns 18 while serving a sentence?

There are two special cases to take into account here.

The first instance is if the minor reaches the age of adulthood before being tried for the crime, or during the proceedings. In this case, the age at which they committed the crime will be taken into account.

The second case is if the minor reaches adulthood while serving a sentence in a closed detention center. These laws state that the minor will remain in the center where they’re serving their sentence until the end of their program, even if they reach adulthood during this time. However, this is only applicable up to the age of 21.

Once they reach 21, they have to move into a prison. Furthermore, in certain cases, a judge may rule for a minor to complete their sentence in prison once they turn 18. They make these decisions on an individual basis, taking into account the youth’s behavior and personal development.

A judge writing.

As explained above, a minor can’t be tried as an adult, but they’re still, in effect, responsible for their actions. In all cases, they face proper criminal proceedings with a judge, a prosecutor, and a defense attorney.

Even under these special laws, one mustn’t disregard the fact that these juveniles have committed crimes. For this reason, they must be held accountable, regardless of their age.


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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.