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Should Juevniles Be Tried As Adults?

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Age: A Magic Number?

The age of 18 brings about freedom for young people in America. At 18, an individual legally becomes an "adult". An individual can now buy cigarettes or a home, enter adult-only clubs, vote, and even get married. Furthermore, from their 18th birthday and beyond, individuals are no longer tried for crimes in juvenile courts. Now, they are tried in adult courts. But, does one or two years make such a difference between sixteen year olds and eighteen year olds? Is it fair for one person, just seventeen years of age, to be tried in a juvenile court, receiving a lesser sentence for murder than an individual just six months older in age who committed the same crime? I think not. Trying juveniles as adults should be consistently allowed because punishment should be based on the severity of the crime, not the perpetrator's age.

When drawing out the outline of our country's justice system, our founding fathers thought little about consequences of crimes committed by juveniles. Children were considered their parents' property. So, when they committed a crime punishment was given at the discretion of their parents. The founding fathers would never have considered severe punishments for young people. They believed that children, in particular, were "vulnerable, fragile, and dependent innocents" in need of protection and understanding (Vannella). However, this belief seems difficult to attribute to juveniles who commit acts of violence.

The belief that juveniles possessed an innocence that protected them from reaping the consequences that adults must endure stayed strong throughout the next century. It was a common belief that juveniles should learn from their actions instead of paying for them. They should be reprimanded softly. Harsh punishments were thought to be unfair because juveniles were not yet mature enough to grasp the morality of their actions. Until the early 20th century, juveniles were still thought of as "little kids" undeserving of punishment. However the age-old mantra, "There's no such thing as a bad boy," seems difficult to apply to teenage torturers, rapists and murderers ("Juvenile Justice").

In the beginning of the twentieth century, a great change arose concerning the crimes and the punishments of juveniles. Juveniles began to be tried in a courtroom setting for crimes in a new juvenile court system. Illinois established America's first juvenile court in 1899. The systems had been designed as a substitute for the discipline juveniles traditionally received from their parents: it mandated informality and individualized treatment, and emphasized rehabilitating young offenders rather than punishing them (Vannella). The hearings were held in a similar fashion to adult courts. However, judges in these courts tended to be much more lenient than those in adult courts. They still followed the past principle that juveniles deserved treatment and rehabilitation rather than severe punishment. A juvenile court proceeding ideally would consist of "a fatherly judge [who] touched the heart and conscience of the erring youth by talking over his problems, [and] by paternal advice and admonition." (Vannella). This kind if fatherly attitude is probably useful in some cases. However, when a juvenile commits severely violent acts, punishment is needed.

The juvenile court operates under the presumption that offenders are immature, in three different senses of the word: Their development is incomplete; their judgment is less than mature; and their character is still developing (Steinberg). Again, these statements are all true. But, juveniles who commit violent acts or murder are not developmentally challenged, and their judgment was mature enough to make the choices they made. Their character has already developed them into a person who is a potential hindrance to society. The only way to prevent such horrid acts from reoccurring is to punish the juvenile after the first offense - in adult courts.

Recently, the topic of whether or not juveniles should be tried in adult courts in cases of extreme violence has come to light. As a response to the increased lethality of juvenile crime, many states are implementing legislation allowing underage criminals to be tried and punished as adults. These policies result in harsher sentences and possible incarceration with adults in state prisons, sparking controversy over the ethics of punishing juveniles so severely (Chiou). Opponents to this idea claim that juveniles have different competencies than adults. Also, they believe that because of their age, they have a greater potential for change than adults. Therefore, they deserve a second chance and rehabilitation. However, juveniles who commit the same crimes as adults demonstrate the same competencies as adults. And, while it may be true that juveniles have a longer life ahead of them in which change may occur, it is also true that certain circumstances do not call for second chances. Among these special circumstances are violence, rape, torture, and murder. Teenagers know the difference between right and wrong and have the maturity to make competent decisions.

In juvenile courts, juveniles do not receive maximum sentences. For more severe crimes, they are sentenced to up to ninety days in a juvenile detention centers. These centers are supposed to resemble jails, but their focus, again, is on rehabilitation. In the detention centers, juveniles spend their days on school-related tasks and meeting with counselors to discuss the reasons they are in the



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