What are Youthful Offenders?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 23 February 2020
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A youthful offender is a child, or person under the age of legal adulthood, who commits a crime. For example, in many places, a youthful offender is a person who commits a crime while under the age of 18. A minor may be guilty of committing a crime for acts that are considered criminal at any age or for acts that are only illegal for minors.

Minors may be considered youthful offenders if they engage in acts that are illegal for people of any age. This includes minor crimes, such as shoplifting, disorderly conduct, and petty theft. It also includes crimes that are serious, such as those involving a deadly weapon, stealing large sums of money, rape, and murder. There are also some acts that are only considered crimes when youthful offenders commit them. For example, a minor may be guilty of a crime in some places if he buys and consumes alcoholic beverage, runs away from home, or skips school without his parents' permission.


Many jurisdictions have special laws and programs for youthful offenders. For example, youthful offenders may be placed in juvenile detention centers or juvenile halls rather than in jails with adult inmates. Such facilities are often residential, which means offenders live there while waiting for court hearings and sentencing as well as before they are placed in long-term detention programs. Often, stays in youth detention centers are meant to ensure offenders do not continue to be a danger to society or skip court appearances.

During a stay in a juvenile detention center, young offenders must follow the center’s routine, which often includes a strict schedule of activities. Youthful offenders usually attend a center-operated school program that provides credit toward graduation once they are released. They are also given opportunities to exercise and participate in counseling. Religious services are often provided for those who wish to participate as well.

Some regions have special youth prisons for those who’ve been convicted of crimes and received prison sentences. These prisons are often similar to adult prisons but have special programs designed to rehabilitate and support youth. For example, youth offenders may be able to take advantage of educational and training classes that prepare them for life after prison. They may have counseling, religious worship opportunities, and the chance to participate in time-limited recreational activities with other youth offenders. Sometimes youthful prisoners are given the opportunity to participate in community volunteer programs as well.


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Post 7

@Emilski - Fortunately, I don't have any experience with the court system, but I would assume a juvenile court is just held in a normal courtroom, but just deals with juvenile cases. They probably just meet once a week or something depending on the size of the court district. You briefly touched on it, but what I would be interested in is what differences there are between state and federal courts.

I know in Canada, the age of majority is 19, but I think most other places are 18. In the US, though, it can be decided by the state. I live in Illinois, and here the age is 17 to be tried as an adult.

I would be interested to hear whether youth offender programs in detention centers have more success than alternative methods that deal more with rehabilitation than punishment.

Post 6

So, I have heard of juvenile courts before. How do these work? Is it just somewhere for youthful offenders to go besides the normal state or federal courthouse? What kind of judge is in charge of the hearings and such?

Also, how are juvenile offenders treated in other countries? I know different countries have different ages where people can do things like drive and drink (separately, of course). I'm just curious whether the United States has a higher or lower adult age than similar countries like Canada or England.

I have heard of situations, too, where juveniles have been tried as adults. What are the circumstances for this?

Post 5

@titans62 - Good points. The more grey areas there are, the more room there is for confusion in the court system. When you really think about it, though, I think it would be pretty easy to argue the point that people much younger than 18 should be given the same punishments as adults.

In most states, once you turn 16 you are able to drive. If you are tasked with the job of being a safe driver, and you are doing something stupid and kill or injure someone in a wreck, shouldn't you be punished like someone over 18, because you both have the same responsibilities when you drive a car? That is just my opinion on it, but I know a lot of people think differently.

I do agree with the idea of youthful offenders programs and keeping juveniles separated from older inmates, though, so they can have a better chance of rehabilitation.

Post 4

@anamur - I think it is 18 because that is a good cut off point. If you gave people that were 18 and 1 month the same privileges as someone who was 17, then why not just make the adult age 18 and 1 month? There has to be a strict line drawn, and it has to be adhered to. Otherwise, you end up with gray areas, and leaving decisions like those up to judges and prosecutors isn't how the law should work.

You could even flip it around the opposite way. If you are 20 years and 11 months and get caught driving drunk, should you get the same punishment or a stricter one than someone who was 21 and 1 month?

Turning 18 means you're officially an "adult," and should start taking more responsibility for your actions.

Post 3

@ddljohn-- No, it will not unless the person is applying to the law enforcement or the FBI or something. These are the exceptions but for jobs not relating to law enforcement, I don't think that a sealed record will be opened.

I have a friend who had a youthful offender status but now he's working as a teacher at a public school. So I think you're relative will be just fine.

There maybe some exceptions, like if the crime had to do with child molestation or something similar that could pose a risk within that job. Someone with this kind of a criminal background can't be a public school teacher. But if the crime is unrelated and minor, I don't think it will come up up during a background check for a job.

Post 2

If you were a youth offender, served probation time and your record was sealed, will this show up later on when you're applying for jobs?

For example, will that person not be able to work for government departments or agencies? Can any employee have your record opened if they request it?

I have a relative in this situation who's very worried about being denied jobs because she was a youth offender. If anyone has any experience or knowledge about juvenile records and employment, please share.

Post 1

I don't understand why the age limit for youth offenders is exactly 18 years. I know that legally anyone 18 or over is considered an adult, but what if a criminal just turned 18 that month? Why can't he benefit from a reduction in punishment by being considered a youth offender?

My husband's son was in this situation several years ago. One of his friends encouraged him to help him shoplift in a store and they got caught. My step-son had just turned 18 that month with no prior criminal record and his friend was still 17 so the friend got off the hook pretty easily. But the crime was put on my step-son's criminal file permanently.


don't think that this is very fair. I understand that a line needs to be drawn somewhere in terms of which age criminal offenders will no longer be considered a minor and youthful offender. But I also think that there needs to be more flexibility for kids who have just crossed that age limit.

Don't you agree?

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