What is a Young Offender?

Erin J. Hill

A young offender, also called a juvenile delinquent, is a minor who has committed a crime. This name is given to those who have committed both misdemeanors and felonies. The legal age of adulthood may vary based on country or area, but it is generally between 18 and 21 years of age. Young offenders who have committed a crime are often tried differently than adults who may have committed the same crime.

Status offenders are young people charged with offenses that would not be crimes if committed by an adult.
Status offenders are young people charged with offenses that would not be crimes if committed by an adult.

The punishment for a young offender will depend on the crime committed. For misdemeanor offenses, young offenders are often given a much lighter sentence than an adult would receive, especially for a first offense. In more severe cases, he or she may be sent to a juvenile corrections facility. This is an institution which serves as a rehabilitation center for youths who have been convicted of a serious crime. While similar to a prison, the kids there often focus more on determining the root cause of problems rather than doing “hard time.”

In some very serious cases, the young offender may be tried as an adult. This is most common if the youth is approaching legal age for adulthood and has committed a felony crime such as murder. A hearing is generally held before the actual trial to determine if the young offender should be tried as an adult. Factors which may play a part in the decision include the person’s age, competence level, and whether the crime was premeditated.

A young offender who is tried as an adult can face the same penalties as any other criminal. This includes life imprisonment, and in some areas, the death penalty. If the youth is not tried as an adult for a serious crime like murder, he or she may be held for several years in a juvenile corrections facility or in a psychiatric center to undergo treatment for mental illness.

The overall goal of the legal system when dealing with a young offender is to determine why he committed the crime and how to prevent it from happening again. Corrections facilities may aim to offer counseling or other services to help the youth discover the causes for his behavior. In some cases, the young offender will be placed on house arrest, probation, given community service obligations, and/or be required to attend court mandated counseling sessions.

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