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Juvenile-adult differences

A model juvenile justice system recognizes the fundamental developmental differences between young people and adults. It resists calls to criminalize delinquent acts, and retains responsibility for all youth capable of benefiting from rehabilitation and treatment in the juvenile justice system.   This system remains committed to individualized and developmentally appropriate handling of youth, as one of the core values that led to the creation of a parallel system of justice for youth in the first place.

In providing for those rare cases in which it may not be possible to accommodate young people in the juvenile system, a model system will:

  • Entrust juvenile court judges with discretionary decision-making authority over individual cases, rather than mandate transfer of wholesale categories to the adult system
  • Give judges flexible and non-criminal sanctioning options, such as extended jurisdiction and blended sentencing, rather than an either/or choice between juvenile and criminal handling
  • Require that decision-making take into account individual factors such as amenability to treatment, culpability, adjudicative competence
  • Build in relief mechanisms for correcting mistakes and injustices in individual cases—for example, allowing criminal courts to send cases back or impose juvenile sentences of their own


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Models for Change is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.