Crime has always been and remains a serious issue for law enforcement, the criminal justice system and the general public; from the most petty jay-walking or shop-lifting to the more extreme crimes of assault or murder. There are indeed some dangerous criminals in the world who need to be taken off the street and confined, not just to punish them for their crimes, but to protect the public from future crimes. When a man is arrested for a crime like murder he s tried by the criminal justice standards required by the American court system. However, what if the shooter or attacker is not a man, but a child; there are children out there committing harmful and violent crimes every day, but how to address a child’s crime is different than an adult offender (Kang-Brown, Trone & et. al, 2013). Many people argue that if children are committing life-threatening and, what many would classify, as an adult crime, then they should face the same punishment as anyone else who commits that crime. However, there are many others that argue that to try to sentence and sanction a child as an adult is unethical and should not be considered. Given the research available it becomes clear that in most cases the addressing of juvenile crimes as adult crimes is not the best choice and is not beneficial to anyone involved in the long run.
A hundred years ago the kind of crimes a child might commit would have been stealing candy and general mischief. Fifty years ago, the most serious crimes on might expect of a child or teen, again, is shoplifting and possibly stealing an occasional car for a joy ride. However, today we see children at younger and younger ages committing for more dangerous and more serious crimes. Children robbing people at knife point, 11-year-olds who can steal your car and sell to a “chop-shop” in minutes, and most disturbing armed children that have and will fire on someone if they feel threatened. Children at younger and younger ages are finding themselves incarcerated for attempted murder and murder than at anything other time in our history. There has been a separation between the standard adult proceedings and the juvenile court system (American Bar Association, 2013) However, as the nature of juvenile crime became more and more violent many within and without o the legal system have suggested that juveniles that commit certain crimes under certain circumstances should be tried and sentenced the same as their adult offender counterparts. This is a very controversial argument. For those who support juvenile’s being sentenced as adults argue that if they are committing this level of crime at this young age then will they only become more and more of a threat when they become adults (Kintigh, 2013). That said opposition to juvenile’s being sentenced as adults is punishing them for crimes they may or may not commit in the future. However, the most important argument in opposition focuses on the fact that children are not intellectually, emotionally and behaviorally developed enough to be treated as an adult.
There are many who support adult sentencing in certain cases and certain offenders. They offer statistics that appear to show that children who are known to commit violent and threatening crimes develop a pattern that will continue throughout their life. Many feel that by sentencing them as if they were adults will prevent them committing future crimes. (Kang-Brown, Trone & et. al. 2013). Unfortunately, some of these studies are misleading, while some of the statistics do appear to point to the pattern, but the reality is that these studies did not take into consideration other factors that also dictate both juvenile and adult crime, like poverty and parental upbringing, or lack their of. They also, argue, that there are some offenders who, regardless of their age, who cannot be redeemed should be treated the same. For example, some children commit crimes so heinous that they can be medically deemed mentally unstable; something that is unlikely to improve as they age. These cases refer to the very rare occurrence of sociopathy and psychopathy, which are the mental disorders that lead to serial killers. In truth, these individual’s when definitely identified, are not capable of changing or preventing their present or future behaviors, then yes special interventions should be taken. These individuals are not simply young offenders, but genuinely mentally ill individuals. However, again this is extremely rare and the bulks of juvenile offenders do not fall within this category and therefore hardly speaks to a precedent to try and punish juveniles as adults.
There is no doubt that children and teens are committing much more violent and serious offenses; the kind of offenses that were once only conceivably committed by adults. That however, does not necessarily mean that the children who commit such crimes can automatically be considered an adult offense and be expected to face adult consequences (Kang-Brown, Trone & et. al, 2013). In adolescence the brain goes through a number of neurological changes that rewires how an individual thinks. Until the age of 16 most adolescence are cognitively under developed compared to adults. They do not have the ability, or the psychosocial maturity to make good, well thought-out decisions. Finally, emotional development varies greatly before puberty and throughout puberty that can dictate moods and lack self control. Combined together all of these aspects make it very difficult to hold a child to the same level of behavioral and action accountability as is does with their adult counterparts. (Kintigh, 2013). It seems unjust to sentence children to the same sentences, be it life or the death penalty, just seems inappropriate when they have not been alive long enough to truly and mature grasp the reality and potential consequences of their actions.
` In the end, children, regardless of the poor judgment they show, simply do not have the life experience and grasp and understanding of the concepts of right and wrong. An adult who commits a crime regardless of what motivated the crime, know that if they choose to follow through with the commission of the crime there is a chance they will be caught and have to face the consequences. A child simply does not. Even when a child thinks they know they are generally very naïve to the reality of what they have done. Juvenile offenders who commit serious crime deserve to be punished, but the age of the offender must be considered when it comes to trial and sentencing. Children who commit crimes as children are not automatically destined to commit crime in the future. Once they grow up and mature they become their more “fully formed” selves. Children are better benefitted by a distinctly separate system from the adults that focused more on education and rehabilitation of the youth, which is more likely to be beneficial in the long run.
Kang-Brown, J, Trone, J & et. al. (2013). A generation Later: What we’ve learned about zero
tolerance in schools.” Vera Institute of Justice: Center on Youth Justice.1-10.
Kintigh, B. (2013). Adolescent development:Juveniles are different than adults. Michigan
Council on Crime and Delinquency.1-8.
American Bar Association. (2013).”Should juveniles ever be treated as adults?”Dialogue on
Youth and Justice.8-14.