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What makes juvenile offenders different from adult offenders, by Kelly Richards

What makes juvenile offenders different from adult offenders, by Kelly Richards

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Published by Francisco Estrada
Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice.

Dr Kelly Richards is a Research
Analyst with the Australian Institute of
Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice.

Dr Kelly Richards is a Research
Analyst with the Australian Institute of

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Francisco Estrada on Jan 09, 2013
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 Australia’s national research and knowledge centre on crime and justice
 Trends& issues
in crime and criminal justice
No. 409
February 2011
 What makes juvenile offendersdifferent from adult offenders?
Kelly Richards
Historically, children in criminal justice proceedings were treated much the same as adultsand subject to the same criminal justice processes as adults. Until the early twentieth century,children in Australia were even subjected to the same penalties as adults, including hardlabour and corporal and capital punishment (Carrington & Pereira 2009).Until the mid-nineteenth century, there was no separate category of ’juvenile offender’in Western legal systems and children as young as six years of age were incarceratedin Australian prisons (Cunneen & White 2007). It is widely acknowledged today, however,both in Australia and internationally, that juveniles should be subject to a system of criminal justice that is separate from the adult system and that recognises their inexperience andimmaturity. As such, juveniles are typically dealt with separately from adults and treated lessharshly than their adult counterparts. The United Nations’ (1985: 2)
Standard Minimum Rulesfor the Administration of Juvenile Justice
(the ‘Beijing Rules’) stress the importance of nations establishinga set of laws, rules and provisions specically applicable to juvenile offenders andinstitutions and bodies entrusted with the functions of the administration of juvenile justice and designed to meet the varying needs of juvenile offenders, while protectingtheir basic rights.In each Australian jurisdiction, except Queensland, a
is dened as a person agedbetween 10 and 17 years of age, inclusive. In Queensland, a
is dened as a personaged between 10 and 16 years, inclusive. In all jurisdictions, the minimum age of criminalresponsibility is 10 years. That is, children under 10 years of age cannot be held legallyresponsible for their actions.
How juvenile offending differs from adult offending
It is widely accepted that crime is committed disproportionately by young people. Personsaged 15 to 19 years are more likely to be processed by police for the commission of a crimethan are members of any other population group.
Foreword |
Responding to juvenileoffending is a unique policy and practicechallenge. While a substantial proportionof crime is perpetuated by juveniles, most  juveniles will ‘grow out’ of offending and adopt law-abiding lifestyles as they  mature. This paper outlines the factors(biological, psychological and social) that  make juvenile offenders different from adult offenders and that necessitateunique responses to juvenile crime. It is argued that a range of factors, including juveniles’ lack of maturity, propensity to take risks and susceptibility to peer  inuence, as well as intellectual disability, mental illness and victimisation, increase juveniles’ risks of contact with the criminal  justice system. These factors, combined with juveniles’ unique capacity to be rehabilitated, can require intensive and often expensive interventions by the juvenile justice system. Although juvenileoffenders are highly diverse, and thisdiversity should be considered in any  response to juvenile crime, a number of key strategies exist in Australia to respond effectively to juvenile crime.These are described in this paper. Adam TomisonDirector 
2 | Australian Institute of Criminology
nonetheless ‘one of the most generallyaccepted tenets of criminology’ (Fagan& Western 2005: 59). This relationship hasbeen found to hold independently of othervariables (Farrington 1986).
Juvenile offending trajectories
Research consistently indicates, however,that there are a number of different offendingpatterns over the life course. That is, whilemost juveniles grow out of crime, they do soat different rates. Some individuals are morelikely to desist than others; this appearsto vary by gender, for example (Fagan & Western 2005). The processes motivatingdesistance have not been well exploredand it appears that there may be multiplepathways in and out of crime (Fagan & Western 2005; Haigh 2009).Perhaps most importantly, a smallproportion of juveniles continue offendingwell into adulthood. A small ‘core’ of  juveniles have repeated contact with thecriminal justice system and are responsiblefor a disproportionate amount of crime(Skardhamar 2009). The study of Livingstone et al. (2008) of acohort of juveniles born in Queensland in1983 or 1984 and with one or more nalised juvenile court appearances identied threeprimary juvenile offending trajectories:
early peaking–moderate offenders
showedan early onset of offending, with a peak around the age of 14 years, followed by adecline. This group comprised 21 percentof the cohort and was responsible for23 percent of offences committed bythe cohort;
 late onset–moderate offenders
, whodisplayed little or no offending behaviourin their early teen years, but who had agradual increase until the age of 16 years,comprised 68 percent of the cohort, butwas responsible for only 44 percent of thecohort’s offending; and
chronic offenders
, who demonstratedan early onset of offending with a sharpincrease throughout the timeframe understudy, comprised just 11 percent of the cohort, but were responsible for33 percent of the cohort’s offending(Livingstone et al. 2008).of all offences during the 2008–09 nancialyear (Queensland Police Service 2009); juveniles comprised 16 percent of allpersons arrested in the Australian Capital Territory during the 2008–09 period (AFP2009);eighteen percent of all accused personsin South Australia during 2007–08 were juveniles (South Australia Police 2008); juveniles were apprehended in relation to13 percent of offence counts in Western Australia during 2006 (Fernandez et al.2009); andin the Northern Territory during 2008–09,eight percent of persons apprehended bythe police were juveniles (NTPF&ES 2009).It should be acknowledged in relation to theabove that the proportion of offenderscomprised by juveniles varies accordingto offence type. This is discussed in moredetail below.
Growing out of crime:The age–crime curve
Most people ‘grow out’ of offending; graphicrepresentations of the age-crime curve,such as that at Figure 1, show that rates of offending usually peak in late adolescenceand decline in early adulthood. Althoughthe concept of the age-crime curve hasbeen the subject of much debate, critiqueand research since its emergence, therelationship between age and crime isIn 2007–08, the offending rate for personsaged 15 to 19 years was four times therate for offenders aged more than 19 years(6,387 and 1,818 per 100,000 respectively; AIC 2010). Offender rates have beenconsistently highest among persons aged15 to 19 years and lowest among thoseaged 25 years and over.
The proportion of crimeperpetrated by juveniles
 This does not mean, however, that juvenilesare responsible for the majority of recordedcrime. On the contrary, police data indicatethat juveniles (10 to 17 year olds) comprisea minority of all offenders who come intocontact with the police. This is primarilybecause offending ‘peaks’ in lateadolescence, when young people are aged18 to 19 years and are no longer legallydened as juveniles. The proportion of all alleged offending thatis attributed to juveniles varies across jurisdictions and is impacted by the countingmeasures that police in each state andterritory use. The most recent data availablefor each jurisdiction indicate that: juveniles comprised 21 percent of alloffenders processed by Victoria Policeduring the 2008–09 nancial year (VictoriaPolice 2009);Queensland police apprehended juveniles(10 to 17 year olds) in relation to 18 percent
Figure 1
Example of an age-crime curve
Source: Farrington 1986
 Australian Institute of Criminology | 3
be less experienced at committingoffences;commit offences in groups;commit offences in public areas suchas on public transport or in shoppingcentres; andcommit offences close to where they live.In addition, by comparison with adults, juveniles tend to commit offences that are:attention-seeking, public and gregarious;andepisodic, unplanned and opportunistic(Cunneen & White 2007).Some offences committed disproportionatelyby juveniles, such as motor vehicle theft,have high reporting rates due to insurancerequirements (Cunneen & White 2007). Thismay result in young people coming to policeattention more frequently. In addition, somebehaviours (such as underage drinking) areillegal solely because of the minority statusof the perpetrator. Research hasdemonstrated that some offence typescommitted disproportionately by juveniles(such as motor vehicle thefts and assaults)are the types of offences most likely to berepeated (Cottle, Lee & Heilbrun 2001).It is also important to note that broadlegislative or policy changes candisproportionately impact upon juvenilesand increase their contact with the police.Farrell’s (2009) analysis of police ‘move on’powers clearly demonstrates, for example,that the introduction of these powers hasdisproportionately affected particular groupsof citizens, including juveniles.
Why juvenile offendingdiffers from adult offending
It is clear that the characteristics of juvenileoffending are different from those of adultoffending in a variety of ways. This sectionsummarises research literature on why thisis the case.
Risk-taking and peer inuence
Research on adolescent brain developmentdemonstrates that the second decade of lifeis a period of rapid change, particularlyin the areas of the brain associated with
The proportion of juvenilewho come into contact withthe criminal justice system
Despite the strong relationship betweenage and offending behaviour, the majorityof young people never come into formalcontact with the criminal justice system. The longitudinal study by Allard et al. (2010)found that of all persons born in Queenslandin 1990, 14 percent had one or more formalcontacts (caution, youth justice conferenceor court appearance) with the criminal justicesystem by the age of 17 years, although thisvaried substantially by Indigenous statusand sex. Indigenous juveniles were 4.5 timesmore likely to have contact with the criminal justice system than non-Indigenous juveniles.Sixty-three percent of Indigenous males and28 percent of Indigenous females had had acontact with the criminal justice system as a juvenile, compared with 13 percent of non-Indigenous males and seven percent of non-Indigenous females (Allard et al. 2010).
The types of offences thatare perpetrated by juveniles
Certain types of offences (such as grafti,vandalism, shoplifting and fare evasion) arecommitted disproportionately by youngpeople. Conversely, very serious offences(such as homicide and sexual offences) arerarely perpetrated by juveniles. In addition,offences such as white collar crimes arecommitted infrequently by juveniles, as theyare incompatible with juveniles’developmental characteristics and lifecircumstances.On the whole, juveniles are more frequentlyapprehended by police in relation tooffences against
than offencesagainst the
. The proportion of  juveniles who come into contact with thepolice for property crimes varies across jurisdictions, from almost one-third in NewSouth Wales to almost two-thirds in Victoria(Richards 2009). Differences among jurisdictions can result from a variety of factors, including legislative denitions of offences, counting measures used to recordoffences and recording practices, as wellas genuine differences in rates of offending. Although not available for all jurisdictions,the most recent data indicate that:in Victoria during 2008–09, 66 percent of  juvenile alleged offenders, compared with46 percent of adult alleged offenders,recorded by police were apprehendedin relation to property crime (VictoriaPolice 2009);in Queensland during the same period,property offences comprised 58 percentof offences for which juveniles wereapprehended by police, compared with22 percent of offences for which adultswere apprehended (Queensland PoliceService 2009); andin South Australia during 2007–08,property crimes comprised 46 percentof all crimes for which juveniles wereapprehended, compared with 24 percentfor adults (South Australia Police 2008).Offences for which juveniles were mostfrequently adjudicated by the Children’sCourts in Australia during 2007–08 wereacts intended to cause injury (16%), theft(14%), unlawful entry with intent (12%), roadtrafc offences (11%) and deception (fareevasion and related offences—also 11%; ABS 2009). Combined, these offencesaccounted for nearly two-thirds of defendants appearing before the Children’sCourts during this period (ABS 2009).By comparison, offences for which adultswere most frequently adjudicated in theHigher Courts during 2007–08 were actsintended to cause injury (23%), illicit drugsoffences (18%), sexual assault (15%),robbery/extortion (11%) and unlawful entrywith intent (9%; ABS 2009). Offencesfor which adults were most frequentlyadjudicated in the Magistrates Courtsduring 2007–08 were road trafc offences(45%), public order offences (11%),dangerous or negligent acts endangeringpersons (9%), acts intended to cause injury(8%), offences against justice procedures(6%), theft (5%) and illicit drugs offences(also 5%; ABS 2009).
The nature of juvenile offending
Juveniles are more likely than adults tocome to the attention of police, for a varietyof reasons. As Cunneen and White (2007)explain, by comparison with adults, juvenilestend to:

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