Should juvenile offenders be tried as adults? This question has become a hot topic recently in this country. Nearly everyone from lawyers and judges, to politicians has expressed their opinion on this subject, and while everyone seems to be talking about it no real conclusions have been reached. When talking about juveniles being tried as adults there are no easy answers, but when all the factors have been weighed, with the exception of murder, the negative affects of juveniles in the adult system outweigh the positive. One of the key reasons for this is because before one can answer the question of youths being tried as adults they must first answer many other questions; some of which go deep into the core fundamentals of the American legal system. Juveniles should not be tried as adults.
It cannot automatically be assumed that such a young offender could grasp the serious consequences of their actions. Underage offenders, being anyone under the age of 18, should not be subject to criminal punishment in adult courts because they are not mature enough to be fully responsible for their actions.
A movement has taken hold of our nation to change the juvenile justice system, and erases any distinction between young offenders and adult criminals. Almost all fifty states have changed their juvenile justice laws allowing more youths to be tried as adults and scrapping long-time efforts to help rehabilitate delinquent kids and prevent future crimes. The current debate over juvenile crime is being dominated by two voices: Elected officials proposing quick-fix solutions, and a media more intent on reporting violent crimes than successful prevention efforts. Minors should not be tried as adults in our society today. This is obvious through looking at propositions by our government such as proposition 21, statistics on juvenile crime and also from specific cases where minors where sentenced in adult courts. (Cooper 1). It seems to be plain and simple; a minor in this country is defined as a person under the age of eighteen. How then can we single out certain minors and call them adults? Were they considered adults before they carried out an act of violence? No. How then, did a violent act cause them to cross over a line that is defined by age?
Putting juveniles in prison with adults does not deter crime. Most studies demonstrate that putting young offenders in adult prisons leads to more crime, higher prison costs, and increase violence (2). Yet we are spending more and more on corrections, and less on prevention efforts. Some states spend more on corrections than they do on higher education. The cost of juveniles in prison as to compare to putting them into rehabilitation programs is astronomically higher. The average cost incarcerating a juvenile for one year is between $35,000 and $64,000. However the average cost of an intervention program is 4,300 per child a year (Vachss 3-4). The adult criminal system is not equipped to handle juveniles. Its purposes are different. It sets out to punish rather than rehabilitate. Sentencing juveniles to adult prisons does not protect the community, but increases rates of a return to crime.
The effectiveness of prisons to prevent juveniles from becoming repeat offenders is low. Children, who have already spent time in adult prisons, are far more likely to commit more serious crimes when they are released (Cooper 3). Crime prevention programs work and are cost effective. They have been shown to reduce crime substantially when compared to imprisonment after crimes have been committed.
There are many crime prevention programs around the country that have been very successful in helping to reduce juvenile crime. Many states use early intervention programs that are designed to help parents of troubled kids in raising their children. These programs offer strategies and tactics for helping supervise and discipline troubled children (American Civil Liberties Union 4). So there are useful and successful alternatives to putting kids in adult prisons.
Media reports on juvenile crime are greatly exaggerated. While some headlines suggested that the children are “ticking time bombs” waiting to go off, the studies show that this is simply not true. The crime level of children is much less than the media reports, crimes committed by juveniles are only 13% of violent crimes (Williams 2). Most kids only go through the juvenile justice system once. Most youths will simply out grow delinquent behavior once they mature.
Many people feel that juvenile crime is getting out of control. If you look at the statistics, you can see that this is not true. Youth advocates say the public does not realize that the vast majority of juvenile crimes are not violent, and that young offenders who are treated as adults become bigger threat to society because they are deprived of efforts to rehabilitate them, which are rarer in the adult system (3-4). The media will always show the worst of juvenile crime, and not any of the positive which makes people feel that there is a huge problem. People believe what the media tells them and that is putting pressure on the lawmakers to respond in a way that doesn’t help the youthful offenders.
There are many negative affects of trying juvenile’s as adults. One of these affects is that when juveniles who are tried as adults are released from jail they tend to re-offend more quickly, and commit more violent crimes. Researchers at the University of Florida have found that thirty percent of juveniles who served time adult jails were re-arrested within the first year of release as opposed to the nineteen percent of juveniles who were re-arrested after remaining in the juvenile system (Cooper 2). One reason for this statistic could be that youths who are sent to adult prison feel like society had given up on them.
Another reason these youths commit additional crimes more quickly is because while they are in jail these young people have no other role models besides the other inmates, who are usually hardened criminals. Upon their release these juveniles try and emulate their role models by committing more crimes (Williams 4). This doesn’t normally happen in the juvenile system because in the juvenile system, unlike in adult prison, the emphasis is on treatment and rehabilitation.
Juveniles who are tired as an adult and sentenced to prison find it extremely hard to survive while in prison. This is because they are thrown into an institution where they are living with murderers, rapists, and thieves (4). It is hard for the juvenile to fend for themselves when they are living among convicted criminals. They are often subject to physical, sexual, and mental abuse by the other inmates, who tend to prey on the smaller and weaker prisoners.
Also there is the question of who is an adult and who isn’t. If a 12-year-old can be tried as an adult but 20-year-olds cannot purchase alcohol because they are too young, where do we as a society draw the line between childhood and adulthood? There is no clear cut line
In conclusion, the topic of juvenile justice and sentencing minors with adult penalties is a heated debate. Many elected officials go for the quick fix solutions. Minors should be tried as adults in our society today. Quick fixes do not help; they send us as a society a step back. Juvenile crime does exist and youths do commit violent acts. However, it is not on the scale that many people would like the public to believe. The statistics don’t lie, juvenile crime is falling. The solution is to the problem is not a simple one and cannot be solved by simply putting kids in adult prisons. More effective solutions should be explored and put to use, but juveniles should not be tried as adults.