Trying Teens As Adults
“In the United States, children are treated as different from adults, except when it comes to criminal law; We see them as in need of protection from the outside world and as insufficiently mature to justify being treated as adults” (Barstow). Children are not allowed to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or even vote until the age of 18 or 21, yet when it comes to criminal law, they are looked upon as an adult and prosecuted as adults. Experts from attorneys to Supreme Court justices still wrestle with the issues that appear when discussing this topic. Current policies and procedures seem to create more controversy with each new case of a juvenile tried as an adult. Minors should not be tried as adults in court because they lose the chance at receiving rehabilitation services, the recidivism rate is higher, and the stigma of a criminal past on an adults’ life. The adult criminal system has no special programming and treatment needed for the rehabilitation of convicted youths.
The American Government spends money for the prevention of juvenile crime, the rehabilitation, and transitional services for young offenders convicted in the juvenile judicial system. Young adults should have an opportunity to take advantage of these programs too, not shoved into an overburdened, underfunded, and inefficient system. Resulting in perhaps additional or false convictions from the lack of positive reform needed to rehabilitate young minds. Educational programs in juvenile detentions have proven that young adults respond well to this type of treatment and when released, return to school and eventually employment. “A recent survey of educational programs in adult jails found that 40% provided no educational services at all, only 11% provided special education classes, and 7% provided vocational training” (Harlow). The brain of an adolescent is a work in progress, and continues to develop to the age of 25. The last region to develop is the frontal lobe that brings improved judgment, impulse control, the ability to plan for the long term, and explains the delinquent activities adolescents engage in. Fortunately, “the rapid growth and development happening in adolescent brains make them highly elastic and malleable to change. When young people hit a rough patch, guidance from responsible adults and developmentally appropriate programs, services, and punishment can get them back on track” (Campaign for Youth
Justice). Juveniles incarcerated with other juvenile criminals have limited exposure to a criminal lifestyle whereas juveniles imprisoned with experienced adult criminals have limitless exposure to every conceivable type of criminal activity or enterprise. The environment they adapt to can decrease their ability of ever attaining the lifestyle conducive to society norms. In addition, incarceration with adults will increase the likelihood of learning and adapting to every anti-social and mal-adaptive behavior. Temporary housing of juveniles in adult facilities usually takes long periods of time and delays treatment and medication for mental illness. Appropriate training of staff and correctional officers in adult facilities are not required for dealing with the emotional and psychological needs for juveniles. Studies have shown that young people often lack the moral and intellectual capabilities to comprehend the repercussions of their behavior. Their behavior often reflects their environment exposed to. The maturation process is difficult at best, a lifelong effort, and in the cases of these disadvantaged youths, this process is extremely vulnerable to the criminal examples influenced by others.
Research indicates that the rate of recidivism although varies from state to state is astonishingly high, and the data that can be culled is highly speculative. “During Fiscal year 2007, Washington courts entered 11,573 juvenile dispositions. Approximately 79% of the offenders were boys and approximately 51% (5,936) of the dispositions involved offenders who had a history of one or more prior offenses” (State of Washington). The ultimate goal of any juvenile offender is for them to remain free and not be incarcerated as an adult. “Those laws have not deterred other youths from committing crimes, nor have they rehabilitated the youths sentenced under them” (Pierre). Minors tried as adults’ have more exposure to hardened adult criminal lifestyles than those who have been tried as a juvenile.
There is also the stigma attached to anyone ever imprisoned. This will include but not be limited to the lack of a normal education and that of being in a normal high school that most American high school students would enjoy. Lack of these experiences could easily lead to feelings of isolation
and feelings of low self-esteem. Guilt and shame over their incarceration is also to be expected. Inevitably, the person in question might actually lie, or refuse to disclose the events surrounding the incarceration. Society in general has a very negative attitude toward anyone who has been in the system despite it not discussed. This prejudice can greatly reduce or hamper their opportunities for these people. Career opportunities in general and specific government jobs are not an option for adults with juvenile criminal pasts. This in turn of course can lead to a repetitive cycle of most career criminals. Lack of normal opportunities might lead an offender back to a life of crime. After doing research on this paper several truths become apparent, amongst these, juveniles should not be tried as adults with the possible exception of deliberate pre-meditated murder. Sentencing needs to be passed on a case-to-case basis with emphasis on the particular situation and the circumstances of the crime. In addition, community and family based programs can play a crucial role in reducing crime, as they focus on youth and their families. Early intervention would seem to be the key, and offering support to those families and children who are especially at risk. Works Cited
Barstow, Amanda, et. al. “From Time Out to Hard Time” 2009. 2011 .
Harlow, C.W. (2003, January). Education and Correctional Populations. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics Pierre, Robert E. Editorial “Adult System Worsens Juvenile Recidivism, Report Says” 2007. 2011 State of Washington. “Sentencing Guidelines Commission” May 2008, 2011
“Teen Brains Are Not Fully Developed.” Editorial. Campaign for Youth Justice 2005, 2011