Justice For Juveniles Tried For Adults: A Flawed Court System

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Neil Bernstein, a journalist and author, once said, “Delinquency is a developmental stage, and we can either help kids through and out of it, or we can do what we’re doing now, which is intervene in a way that keeps them stuck there forever” (qtd. in Mayeux). Every year an adolescent perpetuates a criminal act, which can possibly affect their future. In today’s society, there is a lack of remorse in the court systems. Public defenders, lawyers, judges, and the jury all struggle to combat the complication of juvenile crimes. Should we lead the child in the right direction towards reform and rehabilitation, or should we sentence fifteen years destroying the child’s life? This matter of contention has been around in the justice system for centuries. To some people, charging juveniles as adults serves justice. Correspondingly, it provides relief to the people affected by his or her crime. It is realistically fair to treat all offenders the same regardless of their age. Per contra, others consider trying juveniles as inequitable and should not be allowed in the court system. According to the article, “In the 1700s, laws did not distinguish between juveniles and adults within the criminal justice system. Children as young as seven years of age were charged, tried, and sentenced in adult criminal courts” (Scialabba 1). For several years, children have been committing crimes against the law. Our John Doe, thirteen, has been charged as an adult for shooting a homeless man through an altercation over a slice of pizza. The story hits headlines and the child is now the face of a new murderer. This opens a probable chance of John Doe being charged as an adult. Juvenile offenders should not be tried and punished as adults because it leaves a negative influence on the hereafter of the child.

Juveniles are classified as anyone under the age of eighteen – usually ten to eighteen -. A juvenile has not yet reached his or her adult form – mentally -, maturity, or size. The law system has enforced the rule that anyone could be tried as an adult. Essentially, anyone as young as twelve could get the same sentencing as an adult. In context, a juvenile could be charged as an adult, tried in the legal courts, and likely sentenced to an adult correctional facility. The likelihood that a child so young would survive in the conditions of an adult correctional facility is slim. While young people must be held liable for arduous crimes, the juvenile justice system was implemented for this reason. Placing more juvenile offenders into adult facilities is ultimately detrimental to children. By law, there is a distinct differentiation between juveniles and adults. Adults can vote in political campaigns, juveniles cannot. As well, any person over twenty one can legally drink alcohol. Certainly, there are situations when juveniles do not abide by these rules; however they are still not an adult. So why should we place a label on them and charge them as adults, when we know they are still minors. Subjective, juveniles are not developmentally mature and fully responsible. They have not reached adulthood and are more impetuous and naive to pessimistic peer pressure. As all people do, children still have room for growth and maturity. In today’s society, we do not accept the reality that children are still learning and mentally less responsible than adults who commit crime. Over time, every state has now been approved to try juveniles as adults. In many states, including Tennessee there is no minimum age for being charged and placed into adult facilities. According to the Tennessee section code it states, “Following a hearing, a child meeting age/offense criteria may be transferred to adult criminal court if the juvenile court finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that (1) the child committed the offense alleged, (2) the child is not committable to a mental institution, and (3) the interests of the community require that the child be placed under legal restraint.” It is not rocket science that kids as young as seven have been charged as adults. These consequences can be so extreme that it could greatly affect the future of the child. It has been shown in studies that most young offenders are not repetitive offenders. However, when the courts want to chastise them as adults, we shift the norm and do not give them a second chance in the world.

There are several complications involving trying juveniles as adults specifically in situations where life without parole exists. The conceptions that supported justice for juveniles has drastically decreased and shifted into a new angle that juveniles should face grim punishment. These ideas encourage politicians and judges to be resilient against juveniles who commit a crime. Many people contend that juveniles are in control of their actions and essentially adults who should be punished for what they have done. Others argue the exact opposite and believe in mistakes and forgiveness. These issues are constantly occurring in the United States where they are problematic because of different states laws. The United States settled the issue of sentencing juveniles to life without parole as it is vividly expressed in the United States Convention on the Rights of the Child. Because of this, it will help reinforce the original meaning of justice for juveniles and raise awareness that kids by nature are less capable of their actions than adults and should be handled another way. Supporting this law does not necessarily mean that justice should not be served to the affected persons, but there is a way to balance both parties. Many states have created rehabilitation programs that will punish the juvenile in a positive way. It is arbitrary that we as people could determine what course an individual’s life might turn to in the future.

Since the 1990s, youth crime rates have increased. In Memphis, more and more teens are turning down the wrong road. According to the article it states, “During the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries the problem of delinquency emerged as one of national importance in this country. The problem in Memphis, Tennessee was significant enough to draw the attention of local authorities and reformers alike” (Shelden 1). These crime rates have led many courts to rethink the harsh juvenile punishments that they were originally enforcing. Today, lots of states are creating new facilities designed to reduce the feeling of confinement like adult correctional facilities and remodel into community based interventions for juveniles.

The Houses of Refuge was founded in 18th century in New York. It was established to cruelly punish and confine juveniles in inhumane conditions and jails. Since there were no other options during this time, both male and female youth were often in the same housing as actual violent adult criminals. They had no choice but to bare the atrocities of the jails and witness mentally ill criminals. Also, they were forced to sleep in overcrowded cells. These youth were often sentenced to the House of Refuge for minor misbehaving because there were no better places for punishment. During this time, many American cities and neighborhoods were undergoing high levels of poverty and child neglect. As a result of this, some children began acting out of character because they have no real childhood and someone to care properly for them. In response to this negligence, reformers Thomas Eddy and John Griscom, organized the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism, to stop housing youth in adult jails and persuade authority to implement facilities for juvenile offenders only to reside. Their dedication led to the New York House of Refuge in 1825, the first public institution arranged to house poor and troubled youth who were assumed by authorities to be on the path towards failure.

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The New York House of Refuge became the first movement in what eventually started the juvenile justice system. Other states approved of this idea, and began adopting the same principle. By the 1840s, all was going well and twenty five more facilities were averaged to be constructed throughout other states. Approximately two hundred youth were housed but up to a thousand were in placed in the bigger establishments. Shelden states, “The juvenile court became one method of protecting children from evil environment and removing them from the streets and sidewalks where they gathered to smoke, gamble, play hooky from school, and generally create a disturbance”. These juvenile programs were serving a great purpose for the teenagers, however many problems surfaced.

Regrettably, Houses of Refuge institutions were facing the same issues as the adult prisons – overcrowding, barbaric conditions-. Of course, failure leads to success so a new plan was thought of. Many activists considered the emerging of public school facilities designed to teach the students and put a greater emphasis on the importance of education. Through this movement, when juveniles are placed into these facilities they are required to attend classes like normal kids. Today, these programs are still used in many juvenile detention centers, as they help the juveniles to not lose basic knowledge and prepare them when they are released. It also gives them hope and potential that they still have room to grow from their mistakes. One of the best examples of the older reform schools was the San Francisco Industrial School. It was founded in 1859, and it prepared juveniles for life after confinement. All of the educational reform movements were successful and sparked the further movement for justice reform in the Americas.

Even with these reform programs in place, juveniles are still tending to commit any sort of crime. Liane Gay Rozzell, executive director of Families and Allies of Virginia’s Youth states, “about 200,000 youth are prosecuted as adults each year” (Rozzell). Advocators argue that juveniles are old enough to know right from wrong. Because of this, they should be held accountable for their wrongdoings. Moreover, this would limit more juvenile crimes. In the article, “Introduction to Should Juveniles Be Tried as Adults?: At Issue”, states “the goal was that the fear of harsh punishment would deter juveniles from committing crimes” (Introduction). Be that as it may, others believe charging these teens will degenerate their childhood. Teens should get a second chance at life to grow from their mistakes. Their punishment should not be as rigorous.

In the 1970’s, youth crime began to climb. Due to this, many states have introduced a more stringent approach. The public preferred if there was a more asperous solution to bring down the crime rates and scare teens as a warning. The outcome of this was decided that juveniles be prosecuted as adults. According to the article, “Introduction to Should Juveniles Be Tried as Adults?: At issue”, explains, “The number of minors held in adult correctional facilities has surged two hundred and eight percent” (Introduction). Given this, prosecutors are continuously charging teens any chance available. When young people commit crimes, the legal system must respond in a way to stop future actions. In 1899, the first legal juvenile court was created. The purpose of these programs was intended to secure and rejuvenate the teens. In spite of implementing these programs, society has made it acceptable to try these teens. Adolescents are less mature and vulnerable to negative peer pressure.

The state of Florida led America in the charging of juveniles as adults. The sentencing of a young teenage boy was the spark of the dissension. In 2000, Lionel Tate was prosecuted as an adult. He was the first and youngest ever to be imprisoned without given a chance of parole. Tate was twelve at the time of the accidental death of his sister. Hannah McCrea, writer of The Seminal, reports, “the sharp increase in minors tried in adult courts is due to a wave of legislation in the 1990’s that gave prosecutors the ability to determine who should be tried as an adult” (McCrea). Knowing this, one misdemeanor gives authority privilege to charge adolescents as adults despite their age. With this in mind, a judge has the ability to mandate a range of consequences and sentences for the juvenile even if it is barbarous.

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