Juvenile Offenses. What Can Parents Do?

Compared with other aspects of American jurisprudence, juvenile laws and courts are newer entities. Near the end of the 19th century, youths who committed crimes were tried and sentenced the same as adults. By 1909, many realized that rehabilitative options should be considered that protect and promote the safety and interest of minors. Thus, juvenile courts were created and now handle cases involving young perpetrators and victims. Still, other punitive and rehabilitative options such as youth courts exist that complement our existing juvenile justice system.

What is Juvenile Court?

Often referred to as teen or peer courts, youth courts are programs that allow young men and women to be defended and judged by their peers for delinquent acts. As part of the Federal Youth Court Program, administered by the United States Department of Justice, there are 1,200 youth court programs nationwide. These court programs are designed to educate youth about the American legal system, empower them to be involved in their local communities, encourage positive civic behavior and hold juvenile offenders accountable for their actions.

Delinquency matters can involve individual and gang activity effecting schools, homes and the community. In 2008, 2.11 million youth were arrested for various minor and serious offenses including rape, murder, robbery and underage drinking. In that same year, juveniles committed 26 percent of property damage crimes and 16 percent of all violent crimes.

The Effects of Juvenile Court

While youth courts and similar programs offer more rehabilitative options for young offenders, not every community has them. In the absence of these alternative programs, youth are tried and judged through adult court. Offenses handled in these courts can affect more than just a child's general privileges.

Disclosure of juvenile crime is often requested on job and college admission applications. Certain crimes can even preclude a young person from military service. If the youth is found guilty of a felony, driving and voting privileges could also be suspended or lost. And, parents are not excluded from some degree of liability. Many states have Parental Responsibility Acts and statutes that may render a parent liable for damages caused by the child's actions.

While juvenile courts were created to help stabilize youth and families, juveniles and their parents need to be aware of their rights and obligations under juvenile law. Considering that some crimes have lasting effects, families should consider all their options including challenges to juvenile citations and sanctions, as a means of safeguarding their futures.