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Immaturity and impulsivity may lead many juveniles to commit crimes

Research shows that many juvenile crimes reflect a lack of impulse control and rational judgment, rather than serious criminal tendencies.

Juveniles are often emotionally volatile and impulsive, as most parents in Riverside know firsthand. These traits can cause juveniles to take risks and make decisions that appear questionable to mature adults. Sometimes, these decisions don't have harmful long-term ramifications. Unfortunately, in some cases, young people may end up facing juvenile criminal chargesand life-changing consequences.

Understanding the juvenile brain

As ABC News explains, a juvenile's brain is fundamentally different from a mature adult's brain in a few ways. By the teenage years, the parts of the brain that respond to emotions and peer pressure are highly functional. However, the frontal lobes of the brain are still developing. This region of the brain is responsible for several key tasks, including:

  • Assessing long-term outcomes
  • Planning past the short term
  • Repressing impulses
  • Resisting peer pressure

Since this part of the brain is still developing, teenagers may be prone to make irrational decisions. Instead of looking at long-term consequences and alternative courses of action, teens may respond primarily to emotions and peer pressure. As a result, they may act spontaneously and aggressively, and they may even violate the law.

An impulsive offense

One high-profile crime that occurred in Oakland in 2013 helped draw attention to this tendency. According to ABC News, a 17-year old teenager allegedly set the clothing of another teenager on fire on a public bus. The second teenager suffered second- and third-degree burns. The first teenager's attorney described the incident as a prank that wasn't intended to cause harm, and the teenager expressed feelings of intense regret over his actions.

The teenager pled no contest to assault charges, and he was sentenced to seven years in prison. However, this sentence was recently downgraded because of the progress that the teenager made through custodial counseling and rehabilitation. The family of the injured teenager has even expressed support for this reduced sentence. After reading letters of apology from the incarcerated teenager, the family views his actions as a spontaneous and unplanned mistake.

Rehabilitation and treatment

According to ABC News, a history of juvenile offenses isn't a reliable predictor that a person will commit crimes as an adult. For example, research shows that people commit more violence toward others during their juvenile years. However, up to three-quarters of juveniles who commit violent offenses don't continue doing so as adults. They instead learn to control their impulses and move past these tendencies. This means that rehabilitation may be more effective for juveniles than adults.

Research increasingly shows that juveniles do not have the same power to think rationally and control their impulses as adults do. Therefore, whenever juveniles are charged with criminal offenses, the complex factors that underlie those alleged offenses should be considered. Similarly, the ability of juveniles to respond to rehabilitation should be taken into account.

In California, the juvenile justice system seeks primarily to treat and rehabilitate convicted offenders, rather than punishing them. Still, the long-term consequences of a conviction can be significant. Consequently, most juveniles facing criminal charges can benefit from speaking with an attorney about challenging those charges or working toward reduced sanctions.

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