Trying Juveniles as Adults
In the past 20 years, 45 states in America passed laws to make it possible for children and teenagers to be tried in the adult criminal justice system and sentenced to adult jails and prisons. The result of this action has been profound in that the number of children incarcerated in these facilities more than doubled between 1992 and the late 1990s.
The United States and Somalia are currently the only countries that sentence children and teenagers to life without the possibility of parole. This sentencing goes against the philosophy that facilitated the creation of a separate system for juveniles a century ago - a system that recognizes children are not adults, do not make decisions with the same rationality as adults, and should therefore be treated differently in the courts.
Legislation requiring children to be tried as adults contradicts that philosophy, making juvenile offenders responsible for criminal actions as though they are capable of making decisions on an adult level. Additionally, these laws subject children and teenagers to an adult system that does not focus on rehabilitation as it is merely punitive in nature. The American society is seeking to punish children by placing them with adult criminals, denying them access to rehabilitative resources.
Do you think that when these children (the ones who are not sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, that is) emerge from these jails and prisons, they are better people for having survived those conditions? Or is it possible the American justice system is actually helping to mold and shape future criminals?
What if the United States justice system still worked? What if juvenile offenders were treated as the children and teens they are, provided with opportunities to change and thrive? Is it possible that the reason the United States has the highest percentage of adult offenders prosecuted because the country as a whole refuses to acknowledge that the way it deal with crime is not working?How does America Rank?
In 2008, the United States ranked first
in the number of adults prosecuted in the justice system, coming in at 59.6%. The second country was Turkey at 8.6%. The United States also ranks first
when it comes to the amount of crime perpetrated by region. America was listed at 18.7%. The second country, the United Kingdom, was given a 10.3%.
Changing the laws to subject children to the adult criminal justice system certainly hasn't acted as a deterrent. The United States ranks third
in the world when it comes to the number of juveniles committing murder. Ironically, America is third only to Brazil and Colombia.Does Sentencing Juveniles as Adults Reduce Crime?Two studies
have been conducted to determine if children subjected to the adult criminal justice system learn their lesson as a result. The first study, conducted by a researcher from Columbia University, determined that juveniles processed in the adult system are more likely to reoffend and return to prison or jail after their release.
Another study, conducted by researchers at Northeastern University concluded the same thing: juveniles sentenced and incarcerated in adult facilities were more likely to reoffend than those who remained in the juvenile justice system. The Florida study was conducted in 1996. It would be interesting to see what a present day study would find since the number of children processed and incarcerated as adults have dramatically increased.
So we know two important things based on the above studies and existing crime data. We know that juveniles are not deterred from committing crimes as a result of being tried, convicted, and sentenced in the adult system. We also know that placing juveniles in this system does not improve recidivism rates. In fact, it increases the chances that when the individuals are released they will reoffend, reoffend sooner, and commit more crimes than their counterparts who are tried, convicted, and sentenced in the juvenile system.
If we know the system is not working, why do we continue to support it?