Juvenile Justice

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Juvenile justice systems usually diverge from a country’s adult criminal justice system—there is something fundamentally different about dealing with younger people. Societies seem to value the potential of a child to mature or reform even when weighed against the need to protect the public from delinquents. There have been many different attempts to create models that classify the criminal justice systems of different countries. It is difficult to group the different approaches to juvenile justice in neat categories, but what can be said is that the goals of most systems differ from that of their criminal justice counterparts. Therefore, the juvenile justice system often involves different or additional actors than its criminal justice counterparts.

  • Parole Recommendations
  • Alternative Dispute mechanisms
  • Diversion from the juvenile justice system: do more harm than good?
  • Children may also be subject to abuse from older inmates—see diversion above.

While there is considerable variation across the globe, standards have been set forth in different sets of guidelines that vary in importance, to create at least some points of international consensus regarding the administration of juvenile justice. In fact, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the one of the best-received International Treaties creating an argument that there is actually a great deal more international consensus regarding the treatment of juveniles than many other issues.

At minimum, there is a shared idea that children should be treated differently from adult offenders. This idea is represented in the [[ Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners|UN 1955 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners]], which stated that young persons—those that come under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court should not be imprisoned, and that if they were, they “should be kept separate from adults [1] It also states that those young persons who are detained awaiting trial should be kept separate from adults, and ideally in a separate institution. Thirty years later, the UN focused more specifically on the rights of young persons who come into conflict with the law when it adopted the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (commonly known as “The Beijing Rules”). As guiding general principles, The Beijing Rules seek to promote the well-being of juveniles as well as their families. This sets the general groundwork for viewing juvenile justice as more of an integrative, rehabilitative tool (as opposed to a penal one) and the system as one that involves the young person’s family as well. (Talk about employment/education/accommodation. Want to make sure that authorities react proportionally. Encourage alternatives to a formal hearing and want to involve the whole family. Encourages diversion from the court system for all but the most serious offenders.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child

Entering into force in 1990, the widely adopted Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the most important source of International law regarding juvenile justice. The United States and Somalia are the only UN member signatories who have not ratified the treaty. The CRC sets forth guidelines related to juvenile justice, but does so in the larger context of how children should be treated. For example, the CRC states that in matters concerning children “the best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration.” Article 12 also guarantees children who are capable of expressing their own views the right to express those views and have them credited to the extent appropriate. In relation to juvenile justice, this means that a juvenile offender should have the right to participate in any judicial or alternative proceeding to which they are a party. The CRC Articles dealing primarily with juvenile justice are 37 and 40. Article 37 prevents states from imposing a death sentence or life without parole on people under age 18. It also echoes the ideas of the UN 1955 Standard Rules (see above) that mandate the separation of incarcerated children from incarcerated adults when possible. It also reflects and promotes the practice of setting up a separate system for juvenile offenders, that allows them to have assistance and their parent or guardian (unless its considered not to be in their best interest) present.

International Sources


  1. UN Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners