A judge can sentence a juvenile who has been found to be delinquent by issuing a disposition order. Sometimes they will sentence the juvenile to a period of incarceration, but probation and other more lenient options are common. Even if a juvenile receives a sentence that involves incarceration, this is usually not the same as an adult criminal defendant being sentenced to prison. Often, incarceration will consist of house arrest or placement with a different relative or in a foster home. A judge also may order a juvenile to spend a short period in a juvenile detention facility, possibly followed by a period of probation.
If a juvenile has committed a more serious crime, a judge may sentence them to a longer period of incarceration in a secured juvenile facility. This term can last for a year or more. In some unusual cases, a juvenile may be sentenced to spend time in a regular jail or prison. If they are near the age of majority when they commit a serious crime, they may receive a blended sentence. This means that they are sentenced to juvenile detention initially and then transferred to an adult jail or prison once they reach the age of majority.
Other Types of Sentencing
Judges in juvenile courts often feel that penalties other than incarceration will better serve the purpose of rehabilitating the juvenile. They may order the juvenile to pay a fine or restitution, complete a counseling program, complete community service, or wear a wrist or ankle bracelet that tracks their location. If the juvenile has a clean record and has only committed a minor crime, a judge even may let them go with a verbal reprimand.
Some states offer juvenile justice programs as an alternative sentencing option. These programs tend to incorporate counseling, job training, and other rehabilitative services aimed at improving an offender’s situation rather than simply punishing them.
Probation is perhaps the most common penalty in the juvenile justice system. Judges have considerable discretion to set the terms of probation. These may be specific to the circumstances of the case. Some potential conditions of probation include curfews, educational programs, treatment programs, counseling, community service, and restrictions on other juveniles with whom the delinquent juvenile can associate. If the juvenile lives with their parents or a guardian, they will be responsible for helping the juvenile meet the terms of probation.
The juvenile will meet with a probation officer at regular intervals to verify that they are meeting the terms of probation. If the juvenile’s parent or guardian discovers that they have violated a term of probation, they are required to inform the probation officer. Then, the probation officer will file a violation of probation notice with the court. The judge will review the situation and determine whether to revoke probation. A violation of probation may lead to a sentence of incarceration, although this is not guaranteed.
Appealing a Disposition Order
A juvenile has a right to appeal a disposition order, similar to an appeal by an adult from a criminal sentence. They also may ask the judge who issued the order to modify it if their situation changes. The juvenile would need to show that the change would be appropriate for their needs and best interests. This is an option that is not generally available to adults in criminal cases.