Why juvenile offenses may merit different treatment than adult offenses

The adolescent brain’s limited ability to control impulses and reason objectively may make juveniles more inclined to engage in illegal behaviors

During an average year, more than 100,000 juveniles are arrested or put on juvenile probation in Texas. Although the state's juvenile justice system focuses largely on rehabilitation, people who have been accused of serious juvenile crimes in Plano and other parts of the state may be tried as adults. Unfortunately, research suggests that this type of sentencing may be excessively harsh, given the typical differences between juvenile and adult offenses.

Impulse control issues

As most parents would agree, the adolescent brain functions in a markedly different manner than the adult brain. MPR News explains that the part of the brain that controls impulses is still developing during adolescence. In contrast, the region of the brain that generates impetuous and sensation-seeking behaviors is fully developed. This explains why juveniles often make decisions that don't serve their best interests in the long term.

Many adults may believe that poor decisions on the part of adolescents are deliberate and intentional. However, according to ABC News, the nature of the juvenile brain can make it difficult for young people to do all of the following things:

  • Make decisions based on logic, rather than emotions
  • Consider alternate courses of action
  • Handle pressure and stress well
  • Weigh future consequences against short-term rewards
  • Feel responsible for their actions

Juveniles may make many impulsive and poorly reasoned decisions based largely on their unstable emotions or aggressive tendencies, which are heightened during adolescence. Thus, juvenile crimes may occur for very different reasons than adult offenses do.

External influences

Juveniles are also highly susceptible to external influences, such as peer pressure. MPR News states that in one study, juveniles were twice as likely to take risks while performing a driving simulation if their friends were watching. Juveniles may exhibit even more questionable behaviors in cases when friends are actively encouraging them to undertake those actions.

ABC News notes that juveniles often have diminished control over both their emotional reactions and their immediate environments. Consequently, they may be more likely to find themselves in situations that raise their risk of committing criminal activity.

Potential for reform

For many juveniles, an arrest or conviction does not predict a lifetime of criminal activity. Research shows that up to three-quarters of adolescents who commit violent offenses, such as juvenile assault and battery, don't continue doing so as adults. According to MPR News, an overwhelming 90 percent of adolescents who violate the law never become adult offenders. These findings suggest that, as the juvenile brain continues developing and maturing, the risk of recidivism may fall.

These important biological and behavioral differences between juveniles and adults should be carefully evaluated during felony cases, in which Texas juveniles may be tried as adults. Juveniles who face serious charges may benefit from the assistance of an attorney who can present these issues in court and take other steps to secure the most reasonable outcome possible.