Professor Van Epps
3 May 2012
Juvenile Offenders Tried as Adults: Justice or Misguided Justification?
Juvenile offenses, although horrifying, must be viewed subjectively, with great attention placed on the emotional, intellectual and also social development of the specific offender and not just on the deeds alone. An extremely well-supported argument from a credible source raises the question of whether juvenile systems can create justice for terrible crimes and one does question the appropriate response to juvenile offenses. Although well-supported, one is left to wonder whether a child can be saved after committing such a terrible act. Two other articles, both supporting the juvenile justice system, state that children are still growing and are capable of rehabilitation if given the chance. Steinberg suggests not that juvenile offenders go unpunished, but that “…they should be punished and held responsible within a system designed to treat children, not fully mature adults” (Steinberg, Laurence). Children who have a history of violent behavior and repeat offenses are not the same as young teens who have no concept of the seriousness of their actions, and as so, the offender should be treated accordingly.
There is compelling arguments in favor of the trying of juvenile offenders in adult court. In the article “Adult Crime, Adult Time”, the author points out many valid concerns about the justice system and the insufficient handling of the newly recognized issue of horrific juvenile offenses. Linda Collier, who has been employed as a guardian ad litem (one who looks after rebellious children in the justice system), expresses her anger at and frustration of the present handling of youths who commit unspeakable “adult” crimes, “My experience has made me believe that the system is doing a poor job at treatment as well as punishment” (Collier, Linda J). The author expresses her belief that the juvenile justice system is not equipped to handle children who commit horrific crimes, stating that the current system was built for rebellious youths, not youths that are devoid of morals and judgment. Collier states that the present system of juvenile punishment is not sufficient when speaking in terms of violent offenders, “Detaining a rapist or murderer in a juvenile facility until the age of 18 or 21 isn’t even a slap on the wrist” (Collier, Linda J). The author goes on to ask pertinent questions about the appropriate punishment for juvenile offenders, including raising many concerns supporting her opinion that the juvenile justice system may not have what it takes to eradicate such an alarming new trend. “Children who knowingly engage in adult conduct and adult crimes should automatically be subject to adult rules and adult prison time”, and she explains that statistically, the number of juvenile offenders has increased dramatically; to contain the situation, adult courts should be given reign to punish these offenders accordingly (Collier, Linda J). Collier’s argument is indeed compelling and her intimate experience of the juvenile justice system authenticates her opinion as one worth considering.
In comparison, the articles “Little Adult Criminals” and “Should Juvenile Offenders Be Tried as Adults” offer similar facts to the article “Adult Crime, Adult Time”, but with a much different view on the treatment of juvenile offenders. Although such crimes are undoubtedly terrifying, one must consider that a child is still maturing and may not understand the consequences of the actions that they have committed. In an article written by developmental psychologist Laurence Steinberg, the emotional and social immaturity of juvenile offenders can cause a lack of understanding that should be taken into consideration, and the mistreatment of these offenders can cause irreparable damage. The article states that because children are still maturing, they are more likely to have a successful rehabilitation and states that “…transferring juveniles into a criminal justice system that precludes a rehabilitative response may not be very sensible public policy” (Steinberg, Laurence), and seems to indicate that this may actually make the issue worse. In the article “Little Adult Criminals”, it is stated that “A civilized society must not give up hope of rehabilitating a child who commits a crime” and that “…studies have shown that minors who have gone through the juvenile system …are less likely to be arrested…than those who have served time in ordinary prisons” (New York Times Editorial). Steinberg states that there are many factors that come into consideration when deciding whether an offender is eligible to stand trial, and suggests that age and maturity be factored into the equation. Steinberg’s credentials as a developmental psychologist give weight to his argument in that his career is built upon his knowledge of the developing brain. His comparisons of the minds of children to that of those found incompetent to stand trial should not be taken lightly. A broad generalization of the incompetence of youth is unnecessary, although the individual offender’s maturity should indeed become a factor in the decision of punishment.
In conclusion, Steinberg said it best when he stated that “…ignoring the offender’s age… is like trying to ignore an elephant that has wandered into the courtroom” (Steinberg, Laurence). Emotional and social maturity play a colossal role in the decisions of an individual, and a child with no concept of consequence is a tragedy with horrific implications in a world riddled with blatant violence. Although Collier’s opinion is worth considering, one must also weigh the opinion of Steinberg, the developmental psychologist, who, unlike Collier, speaks from a less biased point-of-view. Collier’s anger with the current juvenile justice system’s failure to contain a rising youth offence rate gives her opinion less weight than that of Steinberg. Steinberg’s study of the development of the child’s brain is not based on anger, but on science. It is a scientific fact that adolescence is a time of growing that warrants confusion and malleability, and his opinion (that a child’s rehabilitation is likely) is a valid one that should not be ignored. More attention should be paid on the revamping of the juvenile justice system to accommodate the rising severity of youth offenses. If there is a chance that society could rehabilitate its misguided youth it would be unacceptable to proceed in any other way.
Michael Ryan, Ed. Patterns for a Purpose: A Rhetorical Reader/Barbara Fine
Clouse. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print.
Collier, Linda J. “Adult Crime, Adult Time.” Ryan. 608-611
New York Times Editorial. “Little Adult Criminals.” Ryan. 599-601.
Steinberg, Laurence. “Should Juvenile Offenders Be Tried as Adults.” Ryan. 602-
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