Solution and Advantages
The debate as to whether the minors who commit violent crimes should be tried as adults have taken place for centuries. While the current justice system only permits the youngsters to be charged in the juvenile courts, the decision to prosecute serious crimes such as violent murder cases has always been discretion. Several cases have ended up being tried by adult courts and sentenced as adult offenders. However, there has been a proposal to fully submit all the children who commit violent crimes to the jurisdiction of the court. The paper argues that since a child’s brain development is not complete, he or she cannot comprehend his or her actions and should not be punished by imprisonment reached through adjudication in adult courts.
The History of Juvenile Justice
For over a century, the United States of America has held the majority of views that children commit crimes without knowledge because they are not mature enough. Moreover, it is very easy to have them reformed as compared to adults. For this reason, a criminal justice practice allowing children to be tried in separate courts and face different punishments from adults seems to be facing a lot of resistance nowadays. The debate traces back to the 18th century when children were tried as adults, a practice that was overcome with time (Schmalleger, 2009). The first house for the rehabilitation of child offenders in the United States was set up in New York in the year 1825 by the Society on the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (Schmalleger, 2009). It was meant to be an educational center for child offenders to aid their rehabilitation. Following this development, the inaugural children’s court in the US was established in the year 1899 in the county of Illinois (Schmalleger, 2009). The court’s decisions were very flexible and confidential in order to avoid the stigmatization of the children.
However, several activists in the 1960s challenged the system because it lacked providing children with the due process safeguards. Therefore, the children were subjected to more horrible environment than adults, as affirmed by the court in the case of Kent v. United States (Schmalleger, 2009). Media played an essential role in unveiling the rise in violent crimes in the United States. However, another breed of opponents has appeared to challenge the notion of children committing violent crimes to be tried in separate courts from adults (Schmalleger, 2009). They held the view that children committing violent crimes should be tried as adults. Nowadays, the only position is discretion as, despite the existence of the juvenile courts, the adolescents committing violent crimes are sometimes tried in adult courts.
Reasons not to Try Children in Adult Courts
In the United States of America, the overwhelming research is conducted towards the fact that children who were tried and imprisoned in adult courts and prisons respectively were more likely to indulge in the commission of violent crimes in the future. According to Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the children who were tried in adult courts were 34 percent more likely to repeat the commission of offenses after serving their prison times than those tried in the juvenile courts (SPLC, 2014). They are also further 36 percent more likely to engage in taking away their lives through suicide than their counterparts who go through the juvenile justice system (SPLC, 2014). The adult justice system, for example, does not give an opportunity for the children to intermingle with the community, parents, sisters, and brothers, which is socially essential for their growth. The absence of communication results in their depression, loss of hope in life, and thus commission of more crimes. Currently, the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates the number of children in adult prisons at 10,000, which is a horrible figure (SPLC, 2014).
Second, trying child offenders like their adult counterparts is more politically motivated than factual action which relies on a deterrent mind rather than rehabilitation (McCrea, 2008). Such kind of a system promoted poverty and poor mode of education as the children in adult prisons are never given an opportunity to study. A society that reaps children of schooling at their young age is preparing for poverty. When these children lack the education necessary to make them survive in the society, they will turn to be perennial criminals who are dangerous to the economy as well as security of the U.S. citizens. Furthermore, subjecting children to adult criminal justice system is against the very established social norm that children are not fully developed to understand some issues. It, therefore, amounts to expose children to double standards. For example, American society forbids the children or those under the age of 18 from buying alcoholic drinks and cigarettes. In addition, the law prohibits children from entering into contracts. Moreover, they cannot run for any political seat or own property. It will, therefore, be very unfair if they were to be subjected to another standard simply because they committed murder. Thus, adolescents have a right to be treated as children even in this circumstance.
Finally, jailing children together with adults does more harm than good to them. These children have different corrective and rehabilitative needs from the latter and should, therefore, be understood as such (McCrea, 2008). Subjecting the minors to the same prison conditions as adults is socializing them to become hardcore criminals as they are likely to become violent. According to the Center for Policy, the adolescents imprisoned in adult prisons were fifty percent more likely to commit suicide as well as be sexually abused (McCrea, 2008). There is no benefit that youngsters get out of the prisons rather than depression and violence. It, therefore, does not assist the society in any manner rather than secluding the children from society.
From the above discussion, while minors have peculiar needs required for their development, the system of trial must reflect the nature of the children. The system should assist the students in correcting their mistakes and growing in life rather than punish them. For example, in adult criminal justice system, child offenders get exposed to even more harm within the prisons. They meet other hardcore criminals who influence them in indulging in more violent crimes. The use of this system further sends a signal to the public that society is incapable of handling child matters, and thus there is no hope for the young child offenders. This betrayal system works against children leaving them without any hope for the future. Use of the adult criminal justice system to punish the minors in conflict with law displays the message that the parents should have a minimal responsibility towards correcting an offender. In their place, responsibility is to be placed upon the prisons to aid the children from their offensive character. Moreover, a vast range of correctional programs such as counseling, curfews, and house arrests form a diverse nature of means available in correcting a child rather than the prisons for the adults. An alternative means to the adult trial system must therefore be implemented. Therefore, a viable solution for children who commit violent crimes can be to subject them to the correctional facilities in order for them to be aided in their development. Such a facility will assist them in pursuing their education, develop talents, and reform. Contrary to placing them in prisons where they will intermingle with hardcore criminals and become even more violent, the penal institutions help them to change in order to become responsible citizens.
Giving Hope That Children Are Salvageable
The proponents of a unified justice system for both the children and the adults argue that it will ensure justice to the former and reduce any procedural deficiencies. Therefore, the system adds no value rather than creating a hopeless society incapable of reforming its children (Gottesman & Schwarz, 2011). Apart from the adult justice system, separate juvenile courts are advantageous because they offer very small sentences and therefore expose the children to fewer sanctions which are necessary as opposed to the adult justice system. The adult system only allows the immaturity of the children to be raised in the courts as mitigation which normally does not count (Gottesman & Schwarz, 2011). To this extent, harm ends up being committed towards the child. Therefore, the essence of a separate justice system for children is a sign of hope to the whole society that minors committing the most violent crimes possible are capable of being reformed. The destruction of the system, however, mirrors a society that has given up on its children.
Nurturing Productive Citizens
The essence of a separate juvenile justice system is to show that the mental capacities of the children are not fully developed to comprehend some aspects. Therefore, the youngsters should be given an opportunity to reform and become responsible citizens of the society (Burkemper, Balsam, & Yeh, 2007). For example, some children react to issues out of emotion whereas others are driven by experimentation of drugs and even their bodies because of their immaturity. These factors result in the minors indulging in some crimes. Thus, it is only prudent that the state gives them an opportunity to correct and become productive members of society. In most cases, these children are incapable of making personal choices, and thus they act out of peer pressure. In determining punishment for them, certain factors ought to be considered. In this regard, curtailing the child’s freedom of movement and association by placing him or her in a correctional facility is enough to change the youngster’s behavior. Second, the trial of children in a separate court and the subsequent placement in a correctional facility enables the children to interact, play, learn, and undergo education that are necessary aspects for their future (Burkemper et al., 2007). Therefore, the juvenile justice system is advantageous over the adult one concerning the child matters as it gives the children an opportunity to undergo education.
Another advantage that the juvenile justice system has over an adult one is that it is capable of rehabilitating children. The rehabilitation is meant to ensure that children become responsible members of society and stop indulging themselves in the commission of crime (Cose, 2010). The range of programs implemented at the correctional facilities ensures that children do not continue with their criminal behavior as they go into adulthood. As opposed to adult system which does not give an opportunity for the young offenders to experience the transition life from childhood to adulthood as other children, the juvenile justice system gives them that opportunity. The rehabilitation programs involve vocational training, learning, and indulging in other practical and life skills such as carpentry (Cose, 2010). When juvenile criminals leave the correctional facilities, they are able to manage the economic conditions of society and contribute to the development of the United States of America. They further come out civilized and with great knowledge due to the education they undergo. In addition, children are more likely to change after such kind of an experience; and immediately they leave the facilities, they will never wish to go back (Cose, 2010). They love being close to their parents and friends. Therefore, the implication of their separation from these people is enough to send a message to them that they need to change their behavior.
The trial of children in separate courts while it is highly recommended for its benefits has its pitfalls. The opponents of the separate trial of children argue that it gives room for the courts to overlook the nature of the crime and focus on the age of a young offender. Furthermore, they state that there is a likelihood of a miscarriage of justice when the children are tried in their separate, especially in cases involving felonies such as murder. To add insult to the juvenile justice system, the opponents claim that the tolerance given by the system is the root cause of the rise in crimes involving children. These concerns are addressed below.
A rise in Juvenile Crimes
In the past few years, the United States has witnessed an alarming rate of juvenile crimes which are largely associated with the soft penalties granted in the juvenile justice system as compared to the adult one. The opponents of the juvenile court system argue that the rate of crime is not expected to reduce because the young offenders have already taken time to study the weaknesses in the system and therefore manipulate it for personal advantage (Allen, 2002). The graph was adopted from the statistics done by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) (See Figure 1). It indicates that compared to the years when much emphasis was put on the juvenile justice system, the rates of violent crimes have reduced since the year 2006 due to the sensitization of children being tried in adult courts (OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book, 2015).
Denial of Justice to the Victims of Violent Crimes
The opponents of the juvenile justice system argue that children, in particular those above the age of 12, have the capacity to know the consequences of their actions, especially in extreme crimes. For example, a 17-year-old teen who commits murder must surely know the nature and the consequences of the crime committed. It would therefore be unfair for the child to be tried in a juvenile court and end up receiving a lenient punishment while the family of the victim is left mourning. Therefore, they argue that a trial in the adult court would deliver more justice.
Considering Age as Opposed to the Crime Committed in Juvenile Justice System
Juvenile courts only operate on presumptions that the children are unable to contemplate the nature of the crimes committed (Allen, 2002). Accordingly, the court forgets about the seriousness of the offence and only appreciates the age of the juvenile. One of the instances in which justice is exchanged for the age is when a 12-year-old boy commits murder and does not care about being remorseful for it. Thus, the juvenile court enters a lenient sentence against the child even under these circumstances. In addition, the juvenile courts lack a jury, which results in a miscarriage of justice (Allen, 2002). The right of being heard by a jury is constitutionally protected and should not be derogated at any time. The fact that that the juvenile courts lack the jury means that the right is limited, which is unconstitutional.
Despite some disadvantages of the juvenile court system, the advantages outweigh them. First, the cons arise from the fact that the opponents of the juvenile justice system do not consider the ability of the children to change due to their immaturity but compare them to the already mature adults. The reasoning is improper because a good corrective system must regard the effects of the offender to society after the sentence. In this case, the research indicates that about 34 % of the children who are submitted to the jurisdiction of the adult courts and end up in adult prisons are more likely to commit the offenses when released (Allen, 2002). Furthermore, the juvenile justice system is less costly as compared to the process of taking children to adult prisons because they require education and proper healthcare due to their vulnerability. Finally, the youths sentenced to adult prisons are more likely to commit suicide because of the isolation and harassment from fellow adult inmates.
While the push for a trial of children in the adult courts through the introduction of a waiver amongst many states is gaining momentum, I submit that the juvenile justice system remains to be the best option. It can be explained by the fact that a child’s brain is in process and yet to finish. Therefore, such a young person cannot fully understand and control his or her actions and, consequently, should not be exposed to adjudication in adult courts. The adoption of a juvenile system is an assurance of justice to the children and the society at large. It gives room for the children to nurture their talents, receive education, and change in order to become law-abiding citizens. Moreover, it gives hope that the future of society – children – is promising and open to changes. Therefore, the advantages of the juvenile justice system outweigh its disadvantages.