Juvenile vs. Adult Corrections: How Do They Stack Up?



Radek M. Gadek is a graduate of the Boston University’s Master in Criminal Justice program. He is the founder of Criminal Justice Online, an interactive blog dedicated to criminal justice academia and law enforcement careers.

Since its inception, the correctional system in the U.S. aimed to keep crime out of the streets. There are notable differences, however, when it comes to the way juveniles and adults are ultimately being helped while within the “system.”  One must consider the age of an adult person in the United States is eighteen, and often, this is where the line gets drawn between being convicted of a crime as a juvenile and as an adult. 


As long as a juvenile is being tried in a juvenile court and is convicted of a crime there, they will not enter the adult facilities until they turn the legal age of adulthood (exceptions apply). This makes a huge difference when it comes to rehabilitation, suppression of future crimes, and length of sentence.


It’s widely known that each correction system uses incarceration to punish offenders. However, rehabilitation is often the key concept of juvenile corrections, and not adult corrections.  There are more incentive programs offered for adolescent criminals.  For example, American Youth Prevention Forum states that


Services found to be effective in juvenile justice include: smaller, 15-25 bed, programs that reduce violent incidents; low staff/student ratios that lead to higher academic achievement; five hours of academic instruction per day (usually required by law); cognitive restructuring programs that, among other things, help young people understand thinking errors which get them into trouble; and gradual returns to the community from secure facilities through day treatment which reduces recidivism, results in higher levels of academic achievement and provides more connections to employers.


This kind of care is not fully available in the adult correctional system-it focuses stringently on punishment and offers only a handful of rehabilitation initiatives when compared to its juvenile counterpart.  It’s a shame. Even though many first time offenders commit crimes before their 21st birthday, society contends such services would not work well with adult prisoners and would be a waste of taxpayer money at the benefit of “hardened” criminals.


Juvenile corrections also differs from its adult counterpart in the types of facilities used to store detainees and prisoners. According to a FindLaw article “Jails and Prisons: Types and Kinds,”


Juvenile detention facilities are often run much like a regular prison or jail, with strict schedules, codes of expected behavior, and punishment for misbehavior” and further for “the purpose of placing juvenile offenders in separate facilities from adult criminals is to insulate juveniles from “bad influences,” to protect them, and to attempt to curb criminal tendencies before adulthood is reached.


There are a lot more types of facilities for adults than for juveniles.  Private jails and prisons contracted by the government, regional jails, minimum security, low security, medium security, maximum security, and super-maximum security facilities mainly serve the adult population.  Places like secure mental health facilities, boot camp incarceration, and juvenile detention facilities are more conducive to juvenile corrections; although, some of the mentioned facilities may be used interchangeably for both juveniles and adults.


The reason for all these measures is to prevent, curtail, and eradicate crime.  But it seems the juvenile corrections system is set in place with a grander purpose. It is done in order to help rehabilitate rather than confine the troubled adolescents.  In reality, I believe adult correctional systems are not as cruel as TV or I depict, and they do offer some help for prisoners, including rehabilitation and educational opportunities for inmates.

Yet, more needs to be done to promote rehabilitation within the adult jails and prisons. What do you think?



11 thoughts on “Juvenile vs. Adult Corrections: How Do They Stack Up?

  1. Radek: You make an interesting distinction here between juvenile justice and adult justice. In one context, the most importnat moments in the process of justice may occur when juveniles enter the court system. They are high-risk, often on the brink of a mighty fall, and the courts are able to help bring them back into the community. That is the challenge, I thunk, and oour responsibility as citizens intersted in building a truly democratic society. I like to believe that our CLTL juvenile programs participate in that effort.

  2. It’s so true. When requesting funds for rehabilitative programs, grantors or more likely to give to programs for teens. I’ve argued that there is not necessarily a great difference between an 18 year-old and a 19 year-old. Still, for some reason people feel better about ‘helping’ teens than ‘helping’ adults.

  3. In the case of young offenders, it seems as though our society is more inclined to offer help and rehabilitation services. This may be because the juveniles are not yet seen as “hardened criminals” and that they are still able to be “saved” or “fixed”. With the exception of very violent teenagers and children who commit criminal acts, most juvenile offenders are sent to facilities that are made to help them be productive citizens in their adult life. However, I agree that there are too many disparities between adult and juvenile offender facilities and resources.
    A person should not be punished more heavily just because of their age. This almost seems like a form of ageism. There are many more types of facilities for adult offenders, but none of them seem as though their expressed purpose is rehabilitation. The teenagers and children who become offenders, though, are sent to facilities such as “secure mental health facilities, boot camp incarceration, and juvenile detention facilities,” which, “are more conducive to juvenile corrections”. These facilities keep juveniles from bad influences through “placing juvenile offenders in separate facilities from adult criminals is to insulate juveniles from ‘bad influences’, to protect them, and to attempt to curb criminal tendencies before adulthood is reached”. Adult offenders also have less access to rehabilitation programs when compared to juveniles. I also agree that taxpayers are more willing to pay for these rehabilitation programs because these young offenders can still be normal, 9-5 career working criminals when they are released from the detention facilities. They can still contribute economically to our capitalist society. Adult offenders, however, have a more difficult time finding good careers, let alone minimum wage jobs. Often, they have trouble finding any sort of job. Therefore, these offenders are less valuable to our society and have less to contribute, economically speaking. This is probably why they are considered so much less valuable than juvenile offenders who can have their record expunged so it is like their crime never happened.
    There is no question that the adult offenders in America have less access to services and rehabilitation programs than their juvenile counterparts. This seems to be a result of the belief in our society that children can become anything they want to, and are still moldable until a certain age. Therefore, society believes they are more easily rehabilitated. Society puts more money into juvenile rehabilitation programs for this reason, but that does not make ignoring adult offenders okay or right. As the saying goes, “what’s right isn’t always easy”. So even though it may be harder to rehabilitate adult offenders, that does not mean we should not try.

  4. I am looking for books, articles, etc. to send to my 18 year old grandson to read while he is in prison.

    He is in a small county prison in south Georgia, that does not have programs to help with rehabilitation.

  5. I am a criminal justice major and I have been in jail. Humm yes I realize that this does not make sense. I actually was put in jail for “Doctor Shopping” after 3 back surgeries, and just so you are aware the hospital is considered multiple doctors. I was already finished with my associates degree when this happened.
    I got to see REAL woman in there, woman who could be my grandmother who had the book thrown at them. There is very little concern for rehabilitation in Virginia and they treat a murderer like a petty theif. I appreciate this article and all of your comments. I just do not see the commonality between juvinile and adult jail.
    By the way this is just my opinion and being a part of both sides of the coin, I believe that I have open eyes to the inconsistancy of our American judicial system.

  6. There is really a huge gap between the 2 correctional system but with regards to it’s court proceedings. On juvenile, it is closed to the public and juvenile records were to remain confidential so as not to hinder with the child’s or adolescent’s ability for rehabilitation and reintegrated into the public. The very words used in juvenile court underscored these differences. Juveniles are noted not charged with crimes, but relatively with delinquencies; they are not found guilty, but rather are adjudicated delinquent; they are not sent to prison, but to training school or reformatory.

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