Juveniles Charged as Adults

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Historically, children over the age of fourteen have been presumptively culpable for their crimes. The first juvenile courts operated under Parens patriae, which gave courts the power to intervene and to act in the best interest of the juvenile. In the late 19th century, juvenile justice reformers pushed for the creation of a separate judicial system with an emphasis on rehabilitation rather than punishment. By the mid 1920s, the juvenile court system spread rapidly throughout the United States. They created statues that required or permitted juvenile judges to transfer adolescents with serious offenses to adult court, this process is called a waiver. “Factors that might lead a court to grant a waiver petition and transfer a juvenile case to adult court include: the juvenile is charged with a particularly serious offense, the juvenile has a lengthy juvenile record, past rehabilitation efforts for the juvenile have been unsuccessful, youth services would have to work with the juvenile offender for a long time” (Michon, Kathleen).

States eventually moved more juveniles into the adult justice system. Despite the institutionalization of a separate juvenile justice system over a century before, youths are habitually charged and prosecuted within the adult criminal justice system. The Juvenile Justice System is designed to emphasize rehabilitation over punishment. For years, Courts have recognized that juveniles are more likely to rehabilitate and have a lesser recidivism rate. Adolescents Development Development of adolescence and delinquent behavior has been link to the individual, social, and community conditions as well as their interactions which influence behavior.

It has been known that most adult criminals were involved in delinquent behavior as children and adolescents. Most delinquent children and adolescents, however, do not grow up to be adult criminals. This is the idea of aging-out theory, that with time, people mature and do not commit crimes because they feel they are too old. In the case Roper v. Simmons, a juvenile was convicted of homicide and sentenced to death. This case questioned the validity of the execution of an individual for crimes committed before the age of 18 and if this conviction were a violation of his Eighth Amendment right, no cruel and unusual punishment. “The Supreme Court of the United States banned the imposition of the death penalty on individuals convicted for crimes they committed before the age of 18 as unconstitutional.

The Court [held] its decision in developmental and scientific research demonstrating that juveniles possess a greater capacity for rehabilitation than adults, [juveniles] are more susceptible to negative peer pressure and are immature and impaired in their judgment and decision-making.” (Docket, L.) In another case, Graham v. Florida, Graham a 16- year old, was convicted of violating his probation and convicted of robbery. He was sentenced to life without parole. He challenged this and the Court held that sentencing a juvenile to life without parole was unconstitutional. “The Court continued, ‘A life without parole sentence improperly denies the juvenile offender a chance to demonstrate growth and maturity’” (Docket, L).

The United State Supreme Court continues to recognize that youth is less blameworthy than adults and are more capable of change and rehabilitation. Risks/ Impacts of Prosecuting Youths as Adults Juveniles when charged as adults and sentenced to adult prison is at higher risk of sexual assault, physical assault, and suicide. The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission described in a 2009 report that youth incarcerated with adults are at the highest risk for sexual abuse. “According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, suicide rates among teenagers in adult state and federal prisons are high. There are an average of 15 suicides per 100,000 prisoners aged between 25-34. For inmates aged 17 or younger, the risk of suicide is over twice as high with an annual average mortality rate of 32 per 100,000 prisoners. The teenage prison population is declining, however. There were about 3,000 teenagers in state or federal prisoners in 2002 and this dropped to around 2,500 by 2012” (McCarthy, N.).

Incarcerating children with adults additionally denies them access to several essential programs as well as services, including basic education, treatment and counseling services, which is impeding their chances for healthy development. “The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention report evaluated a study of outcomes for juveniles prosecuted in adult court rather than in juvenile court and found that there were counter-deterrent effects of transfer laws. Trying Juveniles as Adults, supra. A summary of six studies found that there was greater overall recidivism for juveniles prosecuted in adult court than juveniles whose crimes “matched” in juvenile court. Juveniles in adult court also recidivated sooner and more frequently” (Scialabba, N).

In a study by UCLA, The Impact of Prosecuting Youth in the Criminal Justice System: A Review of the Literature, ultimately found that there has been little to no deterrent effect on juveniles prosecuted in adult court, and in many states, recidivism rates have actually increased.” Increased recidivism rates could be because when a juvenile is in adult prison, fellow adult criminals become the teacher. When the Juveniles are released they will continue to commit crime because all they have grown up knowing is a life of crime. Therefore, charging Juveniles in adult court could ultimately do more harm than good. “In June, a 14-year-old boy was arrested after he threw a rock at police during a political rally in New Mexico. Prosecutors stated that the boy, who was charged with two felonies, would be tried as an adult. A police spokesperson stated, ‘We don’t want to make an example out of a 14-year-old boy. We want to guide him and lead him in the right direction.’

The boy’s attorney disagreed, however, asserting that trying his client as an adult ‘would indicate a completely different scenario than one where they’re not trying to destroy this child’” (Scialabba, N.). “Statistics compiled from 15 states revealed that juveniles prosecuted in adult court and released from state prisons were rearrested 82 percent of the time, while their adult counterparts were rearrested 16 percent less” (Scialabba, N.). However, if a juvenile was prosecuted as an adult they would not have benefited or had access to the services available to them through the juvenile justice system. The programs in juvenile institutions are to help the developmental process of the juvenile. “Juveniles in adult court often do not have the opportunity to acquire critical skills, competencies, and experiences that are crucial to their success as adults” (Scialabba, N.). Solutions on Rehabilitation As a crime control policy, placing more juveniles in adult prison is a symbol of toughness, this symbol is a high price to pay.

The effects of being tough on crime mean that juveniles are exposed to adult offenders, more likely to experience physical, sexual, emotional assault and suicide. Juveniles when charged in adult court are also denied programs and the ability to show they can mature and change. “The federal government has taken steps to protect juveniles from being housed with adults through two federal statutes: the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA) and the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA). Under JJDPA and PREA guidelines, juveniles must be housed separately from adult inmates. Despite these statutes, states continue to house juveniles with adult inmates, and a few have chosen to forfeit federal-grant dollars rather than comply with PREA” (Lahey, J.). The most obvious solution could be charging juveniles as adults less.

This would keep them in juvenile court. Judges would have more discretion with the form of punishment for the crime such as imposing a curfew or ordering counseling instead of jail time. Depending on the crime, such as a murder case, the judge could sentence the juvenile to counseling, development courses, anger management or possibly a psychiatric hospital where the juvenile gets the care and attention needed. If the juvenile after treatment is still considered high risk for reoffending the state could consider a different approach for treatment and rehabilitation such as family counseling.

Instead of just focusing on the juvenile and his or her behavior the state could analyze the family and see if it is a problem family not a problem child. A juvenile does not just start committing delinquent behavior or committing crimes. There is usually a build up of events leading to the delinquent actions, figuring out what was the start and the aggressors to the juveniles delinquent behavior would be the start of creating specific rehabilitation programs for the juvenile.

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Juveniles Charged As Adults. (2020, Aug 21). Retrieved July 19, 2024 , from

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