When minors younger than 16 years of age are prosecuted for committing crimes in Delaware, they are not treated in the same way as adult offenders. Adults who are convicted serve their sentences in institutions operated by the Department of Correction, but minors under the age of 16 are sent to juvenile facilities run by the Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services. If young offenders are given long custodial sentences, their care is transferred to the Department of Corrections when they reach the age of 16.
Delaware law allows young offenders convicted of serious crimes to seek sentence modifications after they have served 20 years. Young offenders convicted of murder in the first degree must serve at least 30 years before they can file modification petitions. When requests for modifications are denied, young offenders have to wait five years before they can file subsequent petitions. The court has the discretion to extend this waiting period if the facts of the criminal case suggest that subsequent petitions will also be denied.
Incarcerating minors is done as a last resort in Delaware, and only young offenders who are considered a danger to the community spend time behind bars. Rehabilitation programs for young offenders are the responsibility of the Committee on Dispositional Guidelines for Juveniles. These programs range from administrative probation with very little interference to intensive supervision that includes multi-systemic therapy sessions that involve the minor, the minor’s family and members of the community.
Giving young offenders a second chance
Rehabilitation is preferred because incarceration is expensive and often counterproductive when young offenders are involved. The rehabilitation programs in Delaware help minors who have broken the law to deal with problems like substance abuse, peer pressure and disruptive home environments, and they should be supported.