Juveniles Should Not Be Tried As Adults: They Call Us Monster Documentary

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Juvenile delinquency is always a debating topic in the US criminal justice system. Although there have been many documentaries about juvenile delinquency, one of the most shocking and eye-opening is They Call Us Monster, which raises a lot of concerns about the juvenile justice system in The United States. They Call Us Monster takes the audience inside a juvenile prison – Sylmar Juvenile Hall – in Los Angeles. The documentary is about Gabriel Cowan – one of the producers of the film – teaches teenagers twenty weeks screenwriting workshop. Four juveniles showed up in the course, after the first lesson one teen left, and three juveniles decided to stay with the course. These three are Antonio (14 years old), Juan (16 years old), and Jarad (17 years old). The screenwriting workshop reveals sorrow experiences that happened in these teenagers’ lives and things which they fantasy.

Prosecuting Youth as Adults 

According to the film, in California youth offenders between the ages of 14-17 can be prosecuted as adults and may receive life imprisonment. In the film, Antonio got arrested when he nearly turned fourteen years old. He committed two attempted murders and faces 90 years to life imprisonment. Jarad got arrested at sixteen years old for four attempted murders and faces life imprisonment. One of Jarad’s crimes left a woman named Yesenia paralyzed half of her body. Juan was charged with first-degree of murder by fatally shooting a man several times at the park; he faces 80 years to life imprisonment. Even though they are still juvenile, they have been tried as adults because of the seriousness of the crimes. These three teenagers are ideal illustrations of how the juvenile justice system has determined to treat teenagers who commit serious violent crimes. Various California legislators argue that juveniles who committed serious crimes and should be charged as adults, while others believe that it is inhumane to convict partially developed children with adult criminals. In the film, the producers included expert’s opinions from both sides, for example, representative Newt Gingrich said at the beginning of the documentary “There are no violent offenses that are juvenile; you rape somebody, you’re an adult; you shoot somebody, you’re an adult.” or an opinion of with Juan’s attorney describing ‘ Many studies have shown that juveniles are not a full human being, They are temporarily insane because their brain physically contain elements that are similar to a mental illness person.” Should juveniles be tried as adults? It is a very hard question to answer.

Rehabilitation or Punitiveness

The debating between rehabilitation and punitiveness in the juvenile justice system has never stopped. Numerous studies have proven that rehabilitation works in juvenile delinquency when punitive completely fails. Although the film did not directly point that out, the audience could easily realize that rehabilitation wins over punitive by observing Antonio’s case. Perhaps, Antonio was luckier than Jarad and Juan. He got out of out the prison after serving a year and half. Since getting out from the prison, Antonio felt lost. He tried to go back to school, but quickly realized he did not fit in that environment. He could not do anything for living because of his criminal background and gradually went back to his lifestyle. Sadly, Antonio recommitted two robberies and got arrested again. He is now waiting to be tried as an adult. Antonio’s case is a perfect example of proofing how punitiveness is ineffective in deterring juvenile criminal behavior.  Producer Cowan also gave out his opinion on this topic, he said “You cannot punish trauma out of somebody. You have to love it out of them. The juvenile justice system was created to rehabilitate, not to be punitive but it became a punitive system where the kids are getting punished for their trauma.” The juvenile justice system should be built on a system of rehabilitation. Such a system will help to improved behavior of youth and assist them in productive re-entry when they are back to communities.

Family, a Possible Prevention for Juvenile Delinquency

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Families take an active role in children’s development. Numerous studies have shown that parents play an important part in preventing juvenile delinquency. Week eight of the screenwriting course is probably the most crucial part of the movie since it reveals a possible solution for the juvenile justice system. The producers have ingeniously included some families’ problems of the three juveniles which triggered their delinquencies. In the film, these teenagers all have difficult and even traumatic. Juan shared with Cowan that he felt hurt because his dad did not love him as much as his brother- Kevin. Because of lacking parental love, Juan decided to join the gang to prove to everybody that he is the better Kevin. Antonio was released and went back to a totally difficult family situation. Antonio’s family couldn’t care for all children they had because of poverty. He felt he was adding more weight to his family, and didn’t have a strong support system to restart his life. When Cowan asked about how he felt about his mom, Antonio said he could not consider his mom as a regular person and even described her as an alien. Jarad shared his own broke-heart experience with Cowan, Juan, and Antonio; however, he referred it as a story of his friend. Jarad was mistreatment during childhood. He witnessed a separation between his mom and dad and especially a very traumatizing suicide event of his stepdad. Luckily, the stepdad survived, but the incident left a negative impact on Jarad.

A New Chapter for Juvenile Justice System

The new chapter for the juvenile justice system has opened. At the end of the documentary, California Senate Bill (SB) 206 became law after putting a lot of effort in reshaping the juvenile justice system. California Senate Bill 260 gives juveniles, who were under the age of 18 at the time they committed crimes and tried as an adult, a chance to parole after serving the prison from fifteen years in the prison. SB 260 agrees that juveniles should hold accountable for the crimes that they committed; however, it realizes that youth are special from adults and gives them a second to exhibit regret and rehabilitation. According to the film, most states still urge juvenile sentences with no chance of parole expect California. After making SB 260 became law, California also passed SB 261 which increased the age of youth parole to 22-years old. The bill says “by recognizing that young people deserve a second chance. It builds on the capacity of young people to turn their lives around and not be defined by the worst thing they have ever done” California is now a leader in reforming the juvenile criminal system and is an example for states around the country following.

In conclusion, They Call Us Monsters is a powerful documentary which raises a lot of concerns about the juvenile justice system in this country, especially on Prosecuting Youths as Adults. The film takes us inside the Sylmar Juvenile Correctional Facility where youths committed to violent crimes being tried as adults are being kept. The film focuses on three juveniles – Antonio, Juan, and Jarad – – as they voluntarily participate in a screenwriting program that led by producer Gabriel Cowan. They Call Us Monsters waves many thoughts about the juvenile justice system including prosecuting youth as adults, rehabilitation or punitiveness, possible prevention, and future development.

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