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Differences in Criminal Behavior and Court Responses among Juvenile and Young Adult Defendants

The peak ages of criminality fall between the sixteenth and twentieth birthdays, with participation rates falling off rapidly for older age groups. Young men under the age of twenty-one account for half of all felony arrests. However, these arrest figures tend to overestimate the seriousness of the youthful offender crime problem somewhat because their crimes tend to be less serious and are committed in groups. There is a strong and direct connection between juvenile criminal activity and adult criminal careers. Chronic juvenile offenders have a high probability of continuing in crime as adults, while juveniles who were never arrested are unlikely to develop criminal careers as adults. Predictors of chronic juvenile offending include predelinquent deviant or troublesome behavior, physiological deficits associated with abnormal brain development, poor parenting, and evidence of criminal conduct or mental disorder among parents or siblings. In recent years juvenile and criminal courts have been criticized for failing to deal with young chronic offenders severely enough. The common belief was that the juvenile court was excessively lenient in all types of cases because of its concern for the welfare of the minor, while the criminal courts were probably forced to be lenient because they did not have unrestricted access to juvenile records. Analysis of case disposition patterns suggests that chronic juvenile and young adult offenders are sentenced to incarceration or state custody at least as frequently as is any other age group (for some types of crime) and that the seriousness of their juvenile records affects the severity of their sentences.