Should Juveniles Be Charged As Adults?
Back in the 1700’s the criminal justice system treated all convicted criminals the same, regardless of gender, age, or mental illness. Prisons were filled with a mix of them all, until somebody recognized that there was a problem with the system in 1825. At that point, the New York House of Refuge was established with a mission of education and rehabilitation for juvenile offenders. It wasn’t until 1899, however, that the first juvenile court was established meant to deal exclusively with offenders under the age of 18. Broad judicial discretion resulted in huge disparities in the treatment of juveniles, and after much ado Congress ultimately passed legislation—the Juvenile and Delinquency Prevention Act—in the mid 1970’s. Nowadays we hear increasingly that many juveniles should be tried as adults, and over 10,000 individuals under the age of 18 are currently serving time in adult prisons across the country. What are the justifications for and against such a move?
Arguments Against Trying Juveniles as Adults
Opponents of such a move have several key arguments to explain their position:
- Brain development: Juveniles’ brains have not adequately developed, rendering their decision-making abilities below par at best. Based on neurobiology alone, it is unfair and inappropriate to hold them to the same standards we hold adults when it comes to accountability.
- Nothing is gained: Nobody wins when youngsters, who should be directed to education and rehabilitation, are simply locked up. Not only is it immoral– it does not meet family court’s standard of acting in the child’s best interest.
- Recidivism is more likely: When juveniles are treated like adults, they are less like to get the help they need to change their lives, and the likelihood of entering a life of crime is increased.
- Punishment options are limited: While the juvenile court system may order curfews and counseling, the range of options in adult court are not geared toward young offenders.
- Sealing records gives them a change to start over: It’s much more difficult to seal an adult criminal record, making it more difficult to make a fresh start.
- Incarceration has major risks: Juveniles in adult prisons are often kept in solitary confinement until they are old enough to join the general population, making them 40 times more likely to commit suicide.
- A jury of peers is not possible: Every jury will consist of adults, even though the defendant may be just nine or ten years old.
- Parental responsibility is dissolved: When youth commit serious crimes, it makes no sense to try them as though they are adults. Instead parents should be held accountable to some degree, such as by being tasked to find proper counseling, care, and rehabilitation opportunities.
Arguments in Favor of Trying Juveniles as Adults
Proponents of treating kids as adults in the justice system are equally vehement in their arguments:
- Actions have consequences: If a serious crime is committed, the age of the offender is irrelevant. Society demands justice, and if that means going through the adult justice system, so be it.
- Juvenile court is too lax: When juveniles are given the toughest sentence possible in a juvenile court, they could be out roaming the streets by the time they hit age 18 (or 21 or 25 in some states). Roughly 300 people are killed by juveniles every year. Our neighborhoods and communities deserve protections from these violent predators.
- They’ll have access to more programs: Adult prisons offer vocational and mental health programs that generally exceed what the juvenile system offers, as well as programming for mental health issues, addiction, and learning disabilities.
- It teaches accountability: Face it: some families simply do not teach accountability, and it is left to society to pick up the slack. Serious crimes should result in serious penalties.
A Just System?
The Las Vegas juvenile crimes attorneys at Lobo Law have dealt with myriad juvenile defendants, and are passionate about providing the best possible defense for youth accused of illegal activities. We are intent on finding a path toward justice for the accused. To discuss your situation, schedule a confidential consultation in our office today.