The Archbishop of Canterbury has called for the government to consider raising the age of criminal responsibility.
Dr Williams said children involved in crime still needed to be nurtured
Dr Rowan Williams said the move could be a way to recognise that most children involved in crime also needed "somehow to be treated as children".
He also told the Sunday Telegraph women with young children should only be jailed as a "very last resort".
The Ministry of Justice said: "Only 3% of young people convicted by a court receive a custodial sentence."
'Immaturity and neediness'
Dr Williams told the Sunday Telegraph: "The tragedy of where we are at present is that, at one and the same time, children are treated like adults and at other levels they are left to flounder in real immaturity and neediness."
In England and Wales, children can currently be charged with criminal offences from the age of 10.
Campaigners argue this should be raised to avoid branding children as delinquents from an early age.
Dr Williams emphasised he was not ignoring the severity of what some young people do, but that it was important to recognise a young teenager "may still in very many important respects still genuinely be a child."
An Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "Custody for under-18s is always a last resort...Where possible, the government is keen to ensure that children and young people are not prosecuted through court.
"However, we believe that children aged 10 and over can differentiate between bad behaviour and serious wrongdoing.
"It is not in the interests of justice, of victims or the young people themselves to prevent serious offending being challenged."