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Spotlighting young offenders: focus on redemption, not harsh sanctions

Young people across the St. Louis metro who make mistakes and need help to work through difficult problems don’t want to get lost. Especially in the criminal justice system.

Here’s a fundamental fact concerning juveniles that all parents can instantly relate to: Their children’s vast potential also links with a mindset and behavior that is not fully developed. A 45-year-old person may no longer care a whit about peer pressure, but his or her teenage child likely makes many decisions based solely upon it. Adolescents are not wholly evolved individuals as measured by any mental or emotional yardstick. That reality is underscored by the very term “juvenile.”

The special nature of juveniles is expressly noted in one online legal source addressing diligent legal representation for young persons charged with criminal offenses. That online overview stresses that, “Many teens are highly susceptible to peer pressure and will do almost anything to fit in.”

Such a mindset can easily lead to rash and impulsive behavior with potentially onerous consequences, even for a teen who had no willful intent to commit a criminal act. Legions of youthful offenders often lack knowledge that the behavior that brought them law enforcement scrutiny was even unlawful or harmful in more than a trivial way.

Common juvenile offenses yielding misdemeanor and felony charges

There are several different types of crimes juveniles have been linked to. Some of these offenses have included:

  • Drug charges (e.g., possession, cultivation or distribution)
  • Theft offenses (ranging broadly from shoplifting to burglary)
  • Assault (an encompassing category, ranging from a fight at school to teen conflict at a venue like a sporting event or mall)
  • Sex offenses, with allegations targeting so-called “sexting” and various forms of abuse
  • Weapons charges

Potential outcomes from court-imposed penalties

A juvenile offender – especially one lacking the timely and proactive advocacy of proven defense counsel – often faces harsh reprisals following criminal charging. Common penalties include these:

  • Detention in a juvenile lock-up facility
  • Mandatory treatment for alleged substance abuse
  • Payment of various fines/fees, including restitution to victims
  • Community service, which can be lengthy and tightly supervised
  • Name inclusion on a sex offender registry (with consequences that can last a lifetime)

Juvenile criminal charges do not automatically link with notably stringent penalties that can materially upend the life of a young offender. As noted above, authorities and society in general broadly recognize the redemptive aspects featuring in a given case involving an adolescent. Rehabilitation – not punishment – is deemed the primary focus in many juvenile criminal matters.

That is unquestionably the logical and fair approach in legions of teen-targeted cases. An approach that demands accountability yet provides a young person a fresh start and hope for the future is broadly beneficial for both the juvenile offender and the general public.

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