Differences Between Youth and Adult Criminal Justice Systems

The Youth Criminal Justice Act says the youth and adult criminal justice systems must be kept separate. Youth and adults are treated differently when they go through the criminal justice system. This section describes some of the ways the youth justice system is different from the adult justice system.

Rehabilitation – The youth justice system emphasizes helping youth get the support they need to become law-abiding community members. This includes help with moving back into the community after serving a sentence in custody.

Taking responsibility – In the youth justice system, it is important for youths to take responsibility for their actions. At the same time, the system responds in a way that takes into account that their level of maturity is not the same as an adult.

Special Protection of Rights - While youths enjoy all the legal rights of adults, certain rights are given special protection in the youth justice system. Some of these include the right to a lawyer, the right to privacy and special safeguards when a youth is questioned by the police.

Speedy Resolution – The youth justice system focuses on completing the criminal justice process as quickly as possible, since a youth’s sense of time is different than an adult's.

Parents – Parents have a special place in the youth justice system. They must be notified of the actions taken against their children and given the opportunity to speak to justice officials. At court hearings, such as sentencing, they are encouraged to support and help their children make positive changes.

Victims - The Youth Criminal Justice Act states victims should be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect for their dignity and privacy and should suffer the minimum degree of inconvenience as a result of their involvement with the youth criminal justice system. Victims should be provided with information about the proceedings and given an opportunity to participate and be heard.