1. Harsh punishments are coming.
When an adult is convicted of a crime, the consequences of a conviction are designed to be punitive. A fine, loss of rights, jail sentence – all of these are punishments for committing a crime. The juvenile justice system, however, is focused on rehabilitation. The hope is to address the behaviors or other issues that led to the child’s actions so that those issues don’t become more serious when the child grows up. Of course, the more serious the juvenile offense, the more likely it is that the consequences could involve punitive elements, including time in a juvenile detention facility or, for the most serious crimes, being tried and convicted as an adult. But for the most part, the sentences imposed on youth offenders will involve things like probation, community service, fines and restitution, participation in treatment programs, curfews, and other restrictions designed get the child back on track to move forward with their lives productively.
2. The only youth in the system are real criminals.
Your child is a good kid. You can’t imagine them being arrested or charged with a crime. They’d never shoplift or vandalize or worse. But many behaviors that you would not think of as crimes, and which would have in the past been filed under the category of “kids being kids,” can actually result in the filing of criminal charges. Bullying, both on the playground and in cyberspace, can be charged as a crime. Unwanted touching of another child could be charged as a battery. These are just two examples of how the juvenile justice system could unexpectedly become a part of your child’s life.
3. Juvenile records are sealed when the child turns 18.
One of the biggest long-term consequences of a juvenile conviction is having a criminal record. Contrary to what many believe, juvenile records are not automatically sealed or expunged when a child turns 18. As is the case for adults, a juvenile criminal record can show up on background and credit reports and limit education, employment, and financial opportunities long after the crime was committed and long after that child becomes an adult. Many, but not all, juvenile records can ultimately be expunged, but it is a complicated process that requires the offender to petition the court for such relief.