Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.
Youth under the age of 18 who are accused of committing a delinquent or criminal act are typically processed through a juvenile justice system1. While similar to that of the adult criminal justice system in many ways—processes include arrest, detainment, petitions, hearings, adjudications, dispositions, placement, probation, and reentry—the juvenile justice process operates according to the premise that youth are fundamentally different from adults, both in terms of level of responsibility and potential for rehabilitation. Whereas sentencing for a serious crime following a guilty verdict in the criminal justice system often results in jail or prison time, the juvenile justice system seeks to avoid incarceration whenever possible.
The primary goals of the juvenile justice system, in addition to maintaining public safety, are skill development, habilitation, rehabilitation, addressing treatment needs, and successful reintegration of youth into the community. The juvenile justice system takes a significantly more restorative approach than the adult criminal justice system. A truly successful case for youth would result in the adolescent learning from the experience without exposure to the severity of an adult prison, altering their decisions and life course moving forward, and having no future contact with the juvenile or criminal justice systems.
Often, youth who are involved with or at risk of being involved with the juvenile justice system have co-occurring life difficulties or disabilities that lead them to cross paths with the justice system at a particular moment and/or that have significant impacts on their emotional, mental, physical, and behavioral well-being. The notion that children and youth are not innately violent or cruel is the driving force behind the juvenile justice system. There exists a firm belief that youth can and will lead healthy and constructive lives if given the opportunity to grow instead of being presumed irredeemable and segregated from their communities. Learn more about the juvenile justice process.
1States, however, have the right to set lower age thresholds for processing youth through the adult system. In addition, some states automatically process any individual, regardless of age, through the adult criminal justice system for some serious offenses.
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Over the course of 6 months, approximately 10% of juvenile detainees thought about suicide, and 11% had attempted suicide.