Criminal vs. Juvenile Justice

Juvenile and criminal justice have different approaches to trail and sanctioning. While adult offenders are charged with crimes, juveniles are charged with delinquent acts, and instead of being proved guilty, they are adjudicated delinquent. Moreover, juvenile courts do not have jury trials, and the processes are always closed. The two institutions also have a different approach to probation in terms of the decision-making process and overreaching goals. The present paper aims at contrasting and comparing probation in two systems to understand the role of rehabilitation in the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems.

The decision-making process for granting probation in the juvenile justice system is different from that applied to adult offenders. In criminal justice, the pre-sentence investigation (PSI) includes information on the seriousness of the crime, risks for recidivism, living circumstances, sentencing options, and sentence recommendations (Abadinsky, 2018). According to Cengage (2020), the judges follow the recommendations provided by the probation officers in PSI from 65% to 95% of the time, as PSI is often the only source of reliable information the judge has. In juvenile courts, the decision-making process is more complicated and includes more stakeholders. During the intake process, a probation officer has a dual function of legal and social service while deciding on the custodial status (Abadinsky, 2018). If a case is referred to a court, the offender goes through a preliminary hearing where he or she is told about rights and charges (Abadinsky, 2018). After the preliminary hearing, an adjudicatory hearing follows, which similar to that in the criminal system (Abadinsky, 2018). However, instead of having a PSI, judges are provided with social history or a predisposition report. After that, a disposition hearing follows, which is the sentencing phase.

Apart from the procedural differences, there are also differences in the over-reaching goals of the two courts. The juvenile court inclines to being less punitive and more rehabilitative (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2018). Therefore, parents and other family members may have a greater role in comparison with that in criminal justice. The judge takes into consideration if an offender is proved to have a low probability of reoffence, and the family can support rehabilitation.

Most juvenile cases end up in probation; however, there are other sanctions, including group homes, residential treatment centers, and training schools (Abodinsky, 2020). The judge makes a decision depending on what works best for rehabilitating the defendant while preserving public safety (Abadinsky, 2018). According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation (2018), youth diverted from the juvenile court have lower chances of reoffence. Therefore, minor, first-time offenders often receive a warning in order to avoid labeling that may result from being processed through the system (Abadinsky, 2018).

Currently, the probation practices in juvenile justice are far from perfect. Instead of promoting punitive measures, the juvenile justice system should focus on nurturing maturity and abstaining from interference in cases with low chances of reoffence. Today, juvenile formal and informal probation is often issued even to minor offenders with a relatively small chance of reoffence. Moreover, current practices are biased to offenders from ethnic minority groups, lack collaboration with families and community groups, and issues too many sentences for technical violations. Since rehabilitation is the central idea in juvenile justice, the system should consider the latest research and decrease the use of probation.


Abadinsky, H. (2018). Probation and parole: Corrections in the community (13th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education.

Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2018). Transforming juvenile probation: A vision for getting it right. The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Cengage. (2020). Probation and parole: History, goals, and decision-making.

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