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Criminal offenders: Are juveniles truly different from adults?

Discussion focused on juvenile offenders in the criminal justice system is often fervent, if not intense, and replete with strong and varied opinions.

Some people, for example, think that most criminal offenses committed by minors who are on the cusp of adulthood -- most typically teenagers -- should be responded to in the same manner as they are for adults who engage in the same criminal activity. That is, no differentiation in treatment should be accorded based on age.

There are obviously critics of such a view, who point out that fundamental differences commonly exist between juvenile and adult offenders, marked centrally by minors’ comparative lack of judgment and maturity.

Where do most American adults come down on the question of whether juvenile offenders should routinely be treated differently from their adult counterparts? Are juveniles fundamentally different?

A media report discussing a recent nationwide poll on juvenile offender outcomes points to evidence indicating that voters across the country do indeed believe that minors are flatly different from adult offenders. Owing to that difference, most of the polled voters stated that juveniles -- at least those convicted of lower-level offenses -- should routinely receive outcomes focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment through incarceration.

As noted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which discussed the polling results, voters tend to see juvenile correction facilities in terms of a pure cost-benefit analysis. That is, unless a juvenile is clearly dangerous and needs to be isolated from society, cheaper and more rehabilitative-focused outcomes such as probation, social service intervention, and family/school input should be emphasized.

Juvenile justice reforms are reportedly favored across most demographics, whether based on age, gender, race, region or other factors.

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