Criminal Justice: Youth And Justice

2009 Words9 Pages
Youth and Justice
Introduction
Changes in public opinion, as well as in criminal justice legislation, have begun to recognize and reflect the unique circumstances at play in the lives of youth who commit crime. That is, it has become widely recognized that the justice system cannot treat youth offenders with the same response that adult offenders are treated with. Minaker and Hogeveen (2009) support this claim and state that youth require “a qualitatively different response” (p. 249). Two examples that reflect this sentiment are: the notion that youth are biologically and psychologically underdeveloped when compared with adults, and that youth possess a unique combination of risk and need that exacerbates their vulnerability as youth.
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This generalized approach to crime used a classical form of legal governance, which was primarily concerned with determining guilt or innocence (Minaker & Hogeveen, 2009, p. 45). Legally for a crime to have occurred two fundamental conditions must be met: actus reus (the violation of a criminal statute), and mens rea (the individual who violated the law has to possess the mental capacity to fully appreciate the consequences of their conduct) (Minaker & Hogeveen, 2009, p. 45). Mental capacity is especially relevant to any discussion of youth and justice. Youth are within the development process. That is, youth are biologically and psychologically progressing towards becoming adults. Moreover, the distinction between youth and adult mental capacity is important for developing appropriate responses to youth…show more content…
Catherine Elliott (2011) argues that both the abolishment of doli incapax and the age of criminal responsibility in England being ten and over, fails to consider that youth outside these parameters still have a diminished mental capacity and lack the freedom to choose how they behave (p. 289). The argument here is that childhood and development does not end at the age of ten, and that the justice system must recognize this. Furthermore, a youth that is eleven years old should not face the same weight of the justice system as a fully developed adult. The government of the United Kingdom justified “abolishing the defense of doli incapax on the basis that [it] would send a clear signal that in general children ten and over should be held accountable for their own actions” (Elliott, 2011, p. 292). Holding youth accountable means to have them take responsibility for their behaviours (Minaker & Hogeveen, 2009, p. 102). The question then becomes, how do we hold youth accountable while also recognizing their diminished capacity and development? Turning to a biological explanation Elliott (2011) states that factors, such as the frontal lobes of the brain, play an important role in the development of self-control and impulsivity (p. 294). The brain of a youth is still developing and this impacts their behaviour. “Considerable evidence supports the conclusion that children and adolescents are less capable decision makers than adults in ways

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