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Debate: In some cases juveniles should be tried as adults

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Background and context

"Under most state laws, juvenile offenders do not commit "crimes". They commit delinquent acts, some of which are acts that would constitute crimes if committed by an adult. The trial phase of a juvenile case is an adjudication hearing. This means that the judge hears the evidence and determines whether the child is delinquent. The court may then take whatever action it deems to be in the child's best interest. The purpose is to rehabilitate, not to punish." ["How do juvenile proceedings differ from adult criminal proceedings?", American Bar Association]

However, the clashpoint in this debate is whether juveniles are mature enough to see the consequences of their actions and thus if they can be punished more severely in adult courts, should they commit serious crimes (rape, murder...).

One of the basic problems and unpleasant clashes is the rather infamous "where to draw the line". Is there really a difference between an 15-year-old and his friend who is 14 years old plus 364 days?

Contents

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Serious problem: Are crimes committed by juveniles a serious problem?

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Pro

  • Problem of juvenile crime is on the rise "Juvenile arrest rates for violent crime have generally exceeded those for adults since 1980." ["Juvenile Crime -- Outlook for California, Part VI", Legislative Analyst's Office]
  • Costs of crime. "Costs to government to operate the criminal justice system (police, prosecution, courts, probation, incarceration, parole). Medical costs to individuals and government because of injuries suffered due to crime. Property stolen or damaged resulting from crime. Loss of productivity to society because of death, medical and mental disabilities resulting from crime. Loss of work time by victims of crime and their families. Loss of property values in neighborhoods with high rates of crime. Pain and suffering of crime victims, their families, and friends, as well as communities plagued by crime. Loss of a productive "citizen" when a juvenile offender is not rehabilitated and continues to commit crime." ["Juvenile Crime -- Outlook for California, part VI", Legislative Analyst's Office, California]
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Con

  • Severe problem, wrong solution. Just the fact that teenagers are committing more crimes does not justify the policy to try them as adults, given that it does not benefit the juveniles, neither the entire society.
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Maturity: Are juveniles mature enough to see the outcome of their actions?

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Pro

  • Many have proven less maturity in juveniles, but have any proven it's legal significance? When we are looking at this argument of maturity, it is easy from the con side to say "juveniles are less developed" or "juveniles are more impulsive" or even "juveniles do not understand the consequences of their actions". BUT: whenever has their been evidence to say "Juveniles are so impulsive that it has hindered their decision making to the extent that they may not make rational decisions." Proving hinderance of rationality is easy, but from the con side, you must prove hinderance to an extent that makes them non-culpable for their actions.
  • Old enough to kill, old enough to be held responsible. Gina Savini, an assistant state's attorney who prosecutes cases in Cook Country's juvenile court: "If they are old enough to pick up a gun and shoot it, they're old enough to take responsibility for their actions."
  • Society does view adolescents as mature individuals in most cases. The society recognizes that teenagers are able to make decisions for themselves (age of consent, driving licenses at 16, ...) and thus do not need protection from the state. Why should court proceedings be any different?
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Con

  • Adolescents are too emotionally immature to be tried as adults "Adolescent decision making is characterized by emotional and cognitive immaturity, intense peer pressure and heightened attitudes toward risk. Therefore, it is no surprise that adolescents make choices that are less responsible than those made by mature adults in similar situations. Although children may know right from wrong, their inability to consistently make responsible decisions makes them less blameworthy than adults." - Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University.


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Juvenile jurisdiction: Does it have significant drawbacks?

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Pro

  • Juvenile justice system is inherently inefficient. "Overall rate of recidivism for boys was 77% compared to 72% among girls in Washington State. (...) 100% of murders and 50% of manslaughters were commited by recidivists." ["Recidivism of juvenile offenders", Sentencing Guidelines Commission, State of Washington, December 2005] Besides, according to Le Monde, 2008, "80% of those in juvenile facilities re-offend."
  • Imprisonment of juveniles in detention centres has adverse effects. "One-third of all responding institutions reported one or more incidents in which violence involving gang members resulted in serious injury. (...) In addition to contributing to institutional violence, gangs form in these facilities and recruit members there. The formation of gangs probably is related to inmates' need for protection from other inmates." [Moore, J.W., Vigil D., and Garcia, R., 1983, "Residence and territoriality in Chicago gangs", Social Problems 31:182-194]
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Con

  • There is no unfair treatment in juvenile courts. "The state is required to prove its charges beyond a reasonable doubt (in juvenile courts), just as in the trial of any adult on a criminal charge." ["How are juvenile proceedings similar to adult proceedings?", American Bar Association]
"Juvenile judges have considerable leeway in deciding how to handle youth offenders, and the courts aim for individual sentences that promote rehabilitation. (...) But if a young child is sent to adult criminal court to be tried as an adult, judges often lose their discretion to structure an appropriate sentence. Most states have some mandatory sentencing schemes that set a statutorily mandated lower end of a sentencing range. Some states even require judges to impose a life without parole sentence upon conviction for certain crimes, regardless of the child's age." "From Time Out to Hard Time: Young Children in the Adult Criminal Justice System", Michele Deitch et.al., Austin, TX: The University of Texas at Austin, LBJ School of Public Affairs
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Adult jurisdiction for juveniles: Does it have significant benefits?

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Pro

  • Rights of juveniles The adult justice system gives juveniles a jury, a proper judge, and good representation. The juvenile system however has no jury, the judge is over-worked along with the counsel provided.
  • Adult criminal system works better in terms of getting suspects in prison. "Juveniles tried as adults were more likely to be incarcerated, and incarcerated for longer than those who remained in the juvenile system." ["The Transfer of Juveniles to Criminal Court: Does It Make a Difference?", Donna M. Bishop and others, Crime and Delinquency, vol. 42 (1996)]
  • Protection of the society. Adult criminal system helps protect the society from dangerous delinquents, because it keeps them locked up in prisons for a longer period of time, thus increasing the chance of their reformation - and even if it didn't increase it, the couple of extra years of protection are worth the change of the status quo.
  • Justice is upheld. As there is no action without reaction, there shouldn't a crime without punishment afterwards. Even juveniles are subject to laws and are obliged to behave accordingly. Should they fail to do so, it would be unjust to let them - almost freely - get away with it.
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Con

  • Death penalty for juveniles. Given that 68% of the world's population live in jurisdiction which actively uses death penalty, it is more likely that children tried in adult courts could be sentenced to death than not.
  • Trying as adults is inefficient. "Of 57 youths in Cook County charged with drug or weapon offenses and transferred to adult court during a three-month period (January through March of 1992), only three received sentences of incarceration, according to Cook County Circuit Court records. (prosecutors dropped charges in 17 of the cases; judges threw out another seven.) Two youths were found not guilty; one was conditionally discharged. The remaining 25 youths plead guilty or were found guilty, and were sentenced to probation, which they would otherwise get from a juvenile court. "Jailing juveniles", by Steven Bogira, 1993"
  • The adult court can be racist. "In 9 of the 10 jurisdictions, African-American youth were disproportionately charged in adult court. This means that the proportion of African-American youth whose felony cases were filed in the adult courts was higher than the proportion of African-American youth who were arrested for felony offenses." ["Youth Crime/Adult Time: Is Justice Served?", Jolanta Juszkiewicz, Pretrial Services Resource Center (the study is based on 18 US jurisdictions and 2,584 cases from January 1998 and March 1999)]
  • The judge does not decide to protect the juveniles. "Most determinations (85%) whether to charge a juvenile as an adult were not made by judges. This was even more true for African-American youth, 89% of whom were charged in adult court through direct file or statutory waiver." ["Youth Crime/Adult Time: Is justice Served?", Jolanta Juszkiewicz, Pretrial Services Resource Center (The study is based on 18 US jurisdictions and 2,584 cases from January 1998 and March 1999)]
  • Harming job prospects. "The main fruit of these laws seems to be the permanent felony record given to the youths. (...) A felony conviction and a sentence to probation significantly harmed job prospects, with the effects lasting as much as a decade later." "Jailing juveniles", by Steve Bogira, 1993
  • Criminal courts have worse re-educative impacts. "[Study compares those robbers and burglars sentenced in New York's criminal courts to those sentenced in New Jersey juvenile courts.] 76% of robbers prosecuted in criminal court were rearrested, as compared with 67% of those processed in juvenile court. 56% of the criminal group was subsequently imprisoned again, as compared to 41% of those processed in juvenile court. Those from the criminal group who were reincarcerated did reoffend sooner after their release than recidivists from the juvenile group." [Fagan, Jeffrey, 1996. "The Comparative Advantage of Juvenile versus Criminal Court Sanctions on Recidivism among Adolescent Felony Offenders", Law and Policy 18:77-112; cited in "Bishop, Donna, "Juvenile Offenders in the Adult Criminal System", 27 Crime and Justice 81 (2000)"]
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Deterrence: Would adult-like sentencing act as a deterrent?

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Pro

  • Deterrence does work. "... the chances of being imprisoned increased in the USA between 1981 and 1995 and fell in England and Wales. During the same period, crime fell in the USA and increased in England and Wales." ["Crime and Justice in the USA and in England and Wales", P. Langan and D. Farrington, The Institute for the Study of Civil Society, 1998]


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Con

  • Deterrence does not work. "The transfer statute passed in Idaho in 1981, which required that juveniles charged with (...) serious crimes (...) be tried as adults. Arrest rates for five years before and five years after the passage of the law show that it had no deterrent effect on the level of juvenile crime in Idaho. When compared to number of juvenile arrests in neighboring states Montana and Wyoming, both of which use old juvenile justice systems, Idaho's juvenile arrests for offenses actually increased, while decreasing in the other two states." ["A Test of the Deterrent Effect of Legislative Waiver on Violent Juvenile Crime", Eric L. Jensen, Linda K. Metsger, 1994, Crime and Delinquency 40:96-104, cited in D. Bishop, "Juvenile Offenders in the Adult Criminal System", 27 Crime and Justice 81(2000)]
  • Deterrence for juveniles does not work. Juveniles, unlike adults, are more prone to emotional (irrational) behaviour and are much less likely to think through all their actions. Thus, even if penalties are harsher, they have no significant impact.
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Justice: Are juveniles in juvenile courts being punished too mildly?

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Pro

  • Two years in prison for murder are ridiculous, not to mention that young murderers do not even get a criminal record.
  • Crime is always a crime, consequences are always the same. No matter the exact age of the criminal, certain damage cannot be undone (murder, rape, ...). Victims and/or their families do carry the consequences, therefore is is just that the offender gets punished appropriately, based not on age, but severity of the crime.
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Con

  • Adult courts impose longer sentences, but they are not served. "Juveniles sentenced in adult courts did receive longer terms than they would have received in juvenile court. However, for all offenses except rape, the average prison time actually served was only about 27 percent of the sentence imposed, in some cases shorter than the possible sentence length in a juvenile facility." ["Spare the Needle But Not the Punishment: The Incarceration of Waived Youth in Texas Prisons", Crime and Delinquency, vo. 42 (1996), p. 593, by Eric J. Fritsch, Tory J. Caeti, and Craig Hemmens]
  • A shorter sentence does not necessarily mean a "milder" sentence. Our laws were designed not to punish as harshly as possible, but to punish appropriately. This means taking into consideration various circumstances, age (maturity) of the criminal, severity of the crime, etc. Therefore we should not aim for sentencing each and every criminal for life, but rather evaluate their cases on individual bases.
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Rehabilitation: Are adult trials going to improve rehabilitation?

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Pro

Click on the pencil icon and research and write arguments here





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Con

  • Adult trials expose juveniles to hardened criminals even if they had not committed anything. "...nearly two-thirds of the detained juveniles in the sample were held in adult jails pending disposition of their cases. Of those, one-third was confined with the general population of adult inmates." ["Youth Crime/Adult Time: Is Justice Served?", Jolanta Juszkiewicz, Pretrial Services Resource Center]
  • There is no point in rehabilitation in certain cases. If the juvenile in the adult system gets a life sentence without parole, he or she sees no point in going through the rehabilitation process given that he/she is never going to reintegrate into the society in the future. This is psychologically damaging for the juvenile and, at the same time, increases the likelihood that other juveniles (sentenced to only a couple of years) will be spoiled by those who - no matter what - have no hope in getting out.
  • There is no rehabilitation in adult prisons, thus if a juvenile is sent to an adult prison after an adult trial, there is no rehabilitation facility to help him/her reintegrate into the society in the future.
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Recidivism: Are adult-like trials better at preventing recidivism?

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Pro

  • Recidivism is affected positively by longer sentences. The study has shown that longer sentence had "[P]ositive effect foe armed robbery and drug offenders" on recidivism. ["Four Thousand Lifetimes:A Study of Time Served and Parole Outcomes", National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Davis, CA, by D.M. Gottfredson, M.G. Neithercutt, J. Nuffield, and V. O.Leary, 1973]
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Con

  • Adult criminal system leads to more crime in future. "Juveniles transferred to the criminal system (...) had a higher rate of recidivism. Within two years, they were more likely to reoffend, to reoffend earlier, to commit more subsequent offenses, and to commit more serious subsequent offenses than juveniles retained in the juvenile system." ["The Transfer of Juveniles to Criminal Court: Does It Make a Difference?", Crime and Delinquency, vo. 42 (1996), by Donna M. Bishop and others]
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Offenders: Do juvenile delinquents benefit from being tried as adults?

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Pro

  • Violent juvenile felons benefit from a trial by jury, where the trial and possible accusation is much less arbitrary.





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Con

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Victims' families: Do they favor juveniles being tried as adults?

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Pro

  • Non-conviction has hard emotional impact on victims' families. "Ben Scott, who admitted punching the 21-year-old twice in the Walkabout bar, Guidhall Walk, Portsmouth, was cleared of manslaughter. Three others - Mark Clark, James Taylor and Luke Morton - were found not guilty of affray at Winchester Crown Court. In a statement, Mr Bartlett's mum Ann said: 'We are now left with a huge void, not only within his family but also in the wider naval family, that nothing can fill.'" ["Mum of dead sailor "let down" after trial", The Portsmouth News, February 2010]
  • Victims suffer, harsh punishment is justified. "Crime victims have a much higher lifetime incidence of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than people who have not been victimized (25% vs. 9,4%). Of crime victims diagnosed with PTSD, 37% also suffer from depression. (...) Crime victims suffer a tremendous amount of physical and psychological trauma. (...) Every victim's experience is different, and the recovery process can be extremely difficult. It can take a few months or years -- or an entire lifetime -- depending upon the variables involved." [Kilpatrick Dean G. and Ron Acierno, "Mental Health Needs of Crime Victims: Epidemiology and Outcomes", Journal of Traumatic Stress 16 (2003), in "Trauma of Victimization", National Center of Victims of Crime]
  • Victims' families wish adequate punishment. "A domestic violence trial came to an abrupt and emotional ending Tuesday when a jilted boyfriend pleaded guilty, prompting the victim's tearful family members to wish him "nothing but torment"." ["Victim's family wishes man "nothing but torment" after guilty plea in murder trial", by Lawrence Buser, The Commercial Appeal, February 2010]
"The family of a slain British woman said Saturday they were pleased with the murder conviction of American student Amanda Knox but said there was no sense of celebration." ["Victim's family 'satisfied' with Knox conviction", December 2009]
  • Victims need a sense of control. "However, participation in the criminal justice system can aid victims in rebuilding their lives. If victims are kept well-informed about the criminal proceedings and feel they have a voice in the process, they will feel that they are a part of a team effort. This added effort enables victims to understand the judicial process and helps to return to them a sense of control to their lives and circumstances." ["Trauma of Victimization", National Center of Victims of Crime]
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Con

  • Victims value protection over punishment. "Peter Dunn, Victim Support's head of research, said: "Victims are often assumed to be vengeful towards offenders and favour harsh punishments. "This is misleading. Most victims, while feeling angry about what has happened to them, want the offender to stop offending both against them and against other people." (...) Lucie Russell, of Smart Justice, said the poll [ICM interviewed a random sample of 982 adult victims of crime between December 19 2005 and January 7 2006] was the first of crime victims, and it was clear they did not believe that prison produced law-abiding citizens: "The survey proves that victims don't want retribution; they want a system that protects the next victim." The survey showed that 61% of crime victims did not believe that prison reduced reoffending for non-violent criminals." ["Victims of crime reject notion of retribution", The Guardian, January 2006]
  • Adequate punishment should not be dictated by victim's families. Our society is not based on inhumane lynch trials; it is the judge (jury in some cases) who determines the appropriate punishment for a criminal (delinquent) that is in accordance with society's values and morals. Just because victims suffer after crime does not mean that offending juveniles should be - for example - sentenced to death, especially if there is a real possibility of their reformation.
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Pro/con sources:

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Pro

  • "Jailing Juveniles", by Steve Bogira, 1993
  • "A Review of Good Practices in Preventing Juvenile Crime in the European Union", 2006
  • "Juvenile Crime -- Outlook for California, Part VI", Legislative Analyst's Office
  • "Recidivism of juvenile offenders", Sentencing Guidelines Commission, State of Washington, December 2005
  • "The Transfer of Juveniles to Criminal Court: Does It Make a Difference?", Donna M. Bishop and others, Crime and Delinquency, vol. 42 (1996)
  • "Crime and Justice in the USA and in England and Wales", P. Langan and D. Farrington, The Institute for the Study of Civil Society, 1998
  • "Four Thousand Lifetimes:A Study of Time Served and Parole Outcomes", National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Davis, CA, by D.M. Gottfredson, M.G. Neithercutt, J. Nuffield, and V. O.Leary, 1973
  • Kilpatrick Dean G. and Ron Acierno, "Mental Health Needs of Crime Victims: Epidemiology and Outcomes", Journal of Traumatic Stress 16 (2003), in "Trauma of Victimization", National Center of Victims of Crime
  • "Victim's family wishes man "nothing but torment" after guilty plea in murder trial", by Lawrence Buser, The Commercial Appeal, February 2010
  • "Victim's family 'satisfied' with Knox conviction", December 2009
  • "Trauma of Victimization", National Center of Victims of Crime
  • "Mum of dead sailor "let down" after trial", The Portsmouth News, February 2010
  • U.S. General Accounting Office, Report to Congressional Requesters, Juvenile Justice: Juveniles Processed in Criminal Court and Case Dispositions 1 (Aug 1995)
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Con

See also

External links and resources

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