Should Juveniles be Tried as Adults?
Is that the right attitude to adopt or are we merely giving them a reason to commit more crimes because they have it easier? Will trying juveniles in the same way as adults turn out to be a better solution and act as a deterrent to stop crime? The following article will put forth certain arguments based on this issue, and the pros and cons of whether juveniles should be tried as adults or not.
A crime is a crime. No matter who commits it. This is the exact attitude which leads to the question of whether the whole juvenile system should be discarded to include only the one judicial system of criminal courts, which tries both children and adults under the same law, with the same rules. This pointer overrides the present juvenile system law completely which states that juvenile courts are necessary because children cannot be tried in the same manner as adults are tried. Here are a few pointers that will help you understand why eradicating the juvenile system might be considered a negative factor.
On most occasions, you'll find that the kids who have committed a crime are very young -- as young as 9 and 10. It is an understood and proven fact that at an age like this, it is impossible for them to have the mental ability of a normal adult that is required to plan and execute a crime, and moreover to understand the consequences of it. So all in all, it is due to this 'yet to develop the thought processes of an adult' that demands us to treat them differently.
It is only after their adolescent years are over that children become mature and begin to understand important concepts like society and expectations (to name a few). During adolescence they are still trying to deal with society and their own inner battles of peer pressure, lack of direction, impulsiveness and the like. At such a time, when they have no responsibilities, and mature or responsible behavior (like supporting a family) is not expected from them (because they lack that power to understand the consequences of their actions and delay their needs) it is considered unfair to treat them in the same manner as that of adults.
Psychologically speaking, it is said that there are no 'problem children', only 'problem parents'. Which means it is the duty of the parents to teach their kids values, morals and the like. Similarly, teaching kids about not handling something that is dangerous or getting them to understand the consequences of their actions (especially if parents have guns and revolvers in their houses) is the job of the parents. If they fail to do so, the children will not understand it. Simple.
It is also argued that since we take the age factor into consideration when it comes to important issues like marriage, social benefits, voting, and jobs (because we know that the same cannot be expected of children), then why is it OK to execute harsh forms of punishments on them in the same way as that done for adults? Every parent knows that punishing a child of 15 and a child of 5 won't be carried out in the same manner. Their punishments will differ. A similar concept gets carried onto this issue as well.
It is believed that when children as young as 10-12 years of age commit a crime, they do not necessarily grow up to become criminals; yet when they are punished in the same manner as adults, the odds of this could somehow change. It has been observed that teens tried as adults tend to commit more crimes when released. There are several reasons for why this happens. One, their educational and employment prospects become significantly worse, thus giving them incentive and opportunity to commit crimes, and two, the stigma that they face might lead to an inability to adjust in society and may cause for repeated criminal behavior.
Arguments also run through that when an adult commits a crime and is punished for the same, he or she will remember throughout the period of his/her sentence, the reason why he/she has been punished. He/she can thus feel remorse for his/her actions. On the other hand, juvenile delinquents who commit a crime when they are very young, will most likely repress the memory of that crime, such that as the time of their sentence progresses, they will only have a vague recollection of the crime. And therefore, feeling remorse may not always be possible.
Take the case of Nathaniel Brazill who was sentenced to 28 + 7 years in 2000 after being charged with the 2nd degree murder of his teacher, Barry Grunow. He was treated as an adult when he was convicted. He was 14 when he committed the crime. Psychologists say that as his age progresses, he will have very little recollection of the details of the crime that he committed and the remorse that he felt then. He will probably repress the memory as he ages. The question that remains to be answered then is -- does the sentence serve any actual purpose?
The reason why this theory has come into the picture is that a crime is a crime, no matter at what age it is committed. Just because a child commits a crime does not mean that the crime is not committed, it does not mean that the victim didn't suffer. It does not mean that because it was a child who committed the crime, the family of the victim does not continue to suffer. The question 'Should juveniles be tried as adults for violent crimes' is garnering more and more arguments. Violent crimes receive the harshest punishments, and it is said that the same should carry forth and continue for children as well.
It is believed that the juvenile court has been established with the age factor in mind rather than focusing on the crime factor. Many believe that this is the wrong approach to take up because it does not focus on the main factor at hand -- the crime that has been committed. It is also argued that juvenile courts do not aim to punish, but are put in place to merely guide and treat. This, they say, does not serve any purpose, because this in no way guarantees that no crimes will be committed henceforth.
The other reason it is considered OK for juveniles to be tried as adults is that it'll not only make them understand the consequences of their action, but also deter them from committing any further crimes, knowing fully well that they are not given any special consideration because of their age factor. It will thus hopefully lower the crime rate in society. When there are harsh punishments meted out on children who commit crimes, others will learn from their mistakes and deter from doing anything drastic like such.
Many also believe that the age limit is quite high (18). At this age, a child is no longer a child and can be considered an adult. So the children who fall in the higher end of this range, should be punished in the same way as that of adults, it is argued. Though, most courts in the U.S.A. rule out the death penalty for children aged 16 and lower.
There are a lot of pros and cons that this issue holds, as is clearly seen in the points that have been put forth. Many of these points, we are aware, are in direct opposition of each other, and yet, each of these issues is worth considering and argued upon. Many states are now opting for a cut in the age at which a person is considered a juvenile and not an adult criminal. Maybe that seems to work? What do you have to say? Do you think juveniles should be tried as adults?
Two Wisconsin girls, both 12 years old when they stabbed their classmates 19 times, are causing a heated debate of whether or not they will be tried in an adult court. In Wisconsin, however, any juvenile over the age of 10 who is charged with homicide or attempted homicide will be automatically tried as adults, which makes the debate moot and academic. Here is a list of certain points you should consider regarding this issue.
1. If they are convicted as juveniles, they would gain freedom from the system at age 25.
2. If the girls are tried in an adult court and found guilty, they could be in prison for the next 65 years.
3. They would first serve their prison term in a juvenile facility, and then transferred to an adult prison at the age of 18, which leaves plenty of room for the girls to become targets of abuse.
So the big question now is should we show sympathy for the girls or the victim? Should their punishment be reduced even if the crime they committed is something only adults are supposed to be capable of doing? Is it okay to accept the argument that they are unaware of the gravity of the crime at the time that they committed it? Isn’t it a fact that the only difference between a juvenile and an adult suspect is age?
Juvenile crimes on the rise are not something society should ignore. But those who oppose trying juveniles in an adult court argue that it does not benefit the suspect or the society, if they are punished the same way as adults.
For a juvenile case to be transferred to an adult criminal court, it has to be eligible for a waiver. That is, the judge waives any protection that a juvenile court provides to a minor offender, treating him as an adult that should be punished accordingly. Now the waiver can be granted if the case meets the following factors:
- The minor is older.
- The charge is a particularly serious offense.
- Lengthy juvenile record already exists.
- Any rehabilitation efforts in the past have been unsuccessful.
- Youth services required to help the minor would be lengthy.
Whether or not you agree to invoke the waiver petition depends on which side of the fence you are on. But the fact remains that trying minors as adults has its share of pros and cons.
List of Pros of Juveniles Being Tried as Adults
1. Deter and minimize crimes committed by minors
There is no denying that crimes committed by minors are on the rise. According to the Office of Justice Programs, the number of juvenile arrests made in 2012 is over 1 million, which may be alarming but is actually 37% less than the arrests made in 2003. Based on the violent crime index, aggravated assault has the highest number of arrests, followed by robbery, forcible rape, and murder and non-negligent manslaughter. If these offenders will be tried as adults and punished to the full extent of the law, they would probably think twice about committing a crime or violating the law.
2. Brings justice to the victims
Some offenses may be forgivable, but not for extreme crimes similar to what the Wisconsin girls committed. Taking a life is murder regardless of the age of the offender, and the penalties to be imposed must not discriminate. After all, the victim’s life will never be returned, and the family will permanently lose their loved one. It is only right that justice is served accordingly, so that the victims and their families will also feel a sense of justice.
3. Correct a case of blind justice
One of the problems in juvenile courts is that they have a tendency to focus on the age of the suspect and not on the criminal act and the reason that it was committed. Even when a minor shows no remorse for the crime committed, the court still has the tendency to exercise leniency. Say a boy’s found guilty and then imprisoned in a juve facility. When he is released at age 25, what are the odds that he would become a full-fledge adult criminal?
4. Trial by jury
In a juvenile court, the judge makes all the decisions. But if minors are tried in an adult court, there will be a jury that will help decide whether or not they are guilty. So their fate falls in the hands of a group of individuals and not just a single person.
List of Cons of Juveniles Being Tried as Adults
1. Minors will be put at risk
Similar to the concern of the lawyer and families of the Wisconsin girls, young offenders are at risk of being sent to an adult correctional facility if they are tried in an adult court. Imagine what would become of these young individuals when mixed with adult prisoners with horrific criminal records. How will these minors handle different situations in an adult prison?
2. Give the impression of lost hope
Some opponents argue that not all young offenders end up as full-fledged criminals. So throwing them in jail with adult offenders would take away any hope of rehabilitation. There is even a high probability that they would come out of prison a hardened criminal.
Another reason that juveniles should be given a leeway is that they don’t always make responsible decisions. According to Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University, “Adolescent decision making is characterized by emotional and cognitive immaturity, intense peer pressure and heightened attitude toward risk. Their inability to consistently make responsible decisions makes them less blameworthy than adults.”
3. Fewer varieties of punishment
In an adult court, criminals can only end up in prison, and even risk being given the death penalty. This gives minor offenders very little option when serving the terms of their sentence. Whereas in a juvenile court, offenders are given curfews, put under house arrest or sent to counseling. The problem with these punishments, however, is that they effectively take away a valuable lesson that a juvenile is supposed to learn while serving the terms of his sentence. Now, if he was in jail, he is likely to regret the choices he made.