There is a continuous debate in the United States regarding the trial of offenders below the age of fourteen years. While some believe that the offenders below the age of fourteen must be treated differently from adults, there are many who firmly believe that offenders with serious crimes should be tried and punished as adults. Those who disagree that juvenile offenders must be treated like adults argue that the rehabilitation programs of the juvenile prisons could prove successful in providing them with a second chance to turn their lives. The essay aims to explore the pros and cons of considering children below the age of fourteen as adult criminals.
Proponents of the debate state that juvenile offenders who commit serious and heinous crimes, must be convicted like adults. They most common view held to further their argument is that the harsh sentences would deter the occurrence of such crimes by potential juvenile criminals. The method of punishment to set an example could be the ideal way to deter more crimes and more children from becoming offenders. Most of the cartels of proponents believe that children have understanding and commit crimes with the full knowledge of the likely consequences, a view which is often refuted by a majority of the opponents of the continual debate.
Opponents of the debate state that irrespective of how serious a crime may be, the decision to treat them in adult courts or sentence them like adult offenders could prove to be harmful for them. From a social perspective, these teen transfers from juvenile courts to adult courts could send the wrong message to the children and their families that they have been abandoned by society.
There is a growing cartel of opponents of transfer and trial of children to the criminal justice systems from the juvenile judiciaries. Griffin, Torbet and Szymanski (OJJDP, p.2) confirm the fact that some states of America are sending children in the age group of six years to ten years to the adult judiciaries. The United States Department of justice (OJJDP, p.2) confirms that judicial discretion is employed in transferring youth from the juvenile justice systems to the adult criminal justice systems, with the aid of a law which reduces the age of suspected criminal behavior of children below the age of eighteen years. These youth and children cannot access the rehabilitation and support provided by the juvenile justice systems.
It has often been claimed that convicts who commit more serious crimes would not be likely to respond to the rehabilitative measures, a claim negated by researchers (Lipsey & Wilson, p.5). It should be noted that youth convicted as adults are liable to receiving ‘felony records’ which implies that the youth cannot be entitled to receiving any kind of government loans for educational or housing purposes, which additionally facilitates their contacts and collaboration with the criminal system. In most states, convicted youth are also denied the right to vote.
Modern research and study has pointed that the imprisoned and convicted youth have identifiable mental and psychological diseases (Cocozza and Skowyra, p.7). Cocozza and Skowyra (p.9) have affirmed that many of the imprisoned youth have suffered form some form of child abuse, an issue which must be assessed and treated appropriately. Studies have also proved that youth are more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile occupancies (Cocozza & Skowyra, in OJJDP, p.3).
Steinberg (p.1) affirms that there are substantial psychological distinctions between children and adult offenders related to the developmental processes of their age, and which are crucial to be referred to in times of trial. While Steinberg (p.1) does not refute the argument that dangerous child offenders should not be thrown into the company of other juveniles, he asserts that more serious crimes among children must be looked at from a different perspective thereby demanding a radically different and effective approach.
Steinberg (p.2) argues that the basic premise of the foundation of the juvenile courts was to treat children differently from adult offenders, considering their biological age and their capacity to think and act. Besides, it was also taken into account that children, if provided a healthy milieu, had the potential to change and develop as responsible humans of society. The fact that most children are naïve and could be impacted by sociological and hereditary factors is reason enough to treat them with a more radical and positive approach, rather tan throwing them directly into the company of hardened criminals.
Thus, when children below the age of fourteen are tried, they must be sent in the juvenile systems rather than the criminal courts. This at least provides some scope of behavioral improvement of these strayed children. Very often the diverse backgrounds from which these children come, itself makes life a challenge for them. Further there may be additional pressures of family abuse, financial or societal problems which may have led these children to behave in the way they did.
Preference must be given to change the behavior and the mindset of these juveniles by placing them under positive care rather than throwing them in the criminal courts and jails so that there is no hole left for them.
Cocozza, J., & Skowyra, K. Youth with Mental Disorders: Issues and Emerging Responses. Washington DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Journal, 2000. 7(1): 3-13.
Griffin, P, Torbet, P, Szymanski, L. Trying Juveniles as Adults in Criminal Court: An Analysis of State Transfer Provisions. Washington DC: OJJDP, U.S. Department of Justice, 1998: 1-4.
Lipsey, M, Wilson, D. Effective Intervention for Serious Juvenile Offenders: A Synthesis of Research in Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), 2000: 1-8.
Steinberg, L. Should Juvenile Offenders Be Tried As Adults? A Developmental Perspective on Changing Legal Policies. Paper presented as a part of a Congressional Research Briefing entitled “Juvenile Crime: Causes and Consequences,” Washington, 2000: 1-9.