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Should Juvenile Offenders Be Tried As Adults

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Should Juvenile Offenders Be Tried as Adults

It has been an ongoing debate whether juvenile offenders should be tried as adults. Some feel that if a juvenile is mature enough to do the crime then they are mature enough to do the time as fit. Others feel that the juvenile is not developed enough to understand what the repercussions are for committing a crime and have no knowledge of the law they are breaking. So the question is, should juvenile offenders be tried as adults? "Because society doesn't expect children to be criminals or to commit crimes, it is faced with the dilemma that most would find difficult to resolve. Should juveniles be placed into the criminal justice system that would preclude a rehabilitative state?" (Steinberg, 2001) The purpose of this paper is to take a closer look at the opinions of Lawrence Steinberg, make a determination whether his points are valid and form an opinion whether juveniles should be tried as adults.

Lawrence Steinberg is a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Temple University, Philadelphia, Pa., and Director of the John D. & Catherine T MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice. (Steinberg, 2001) In September 2001, Professor Steinberg published an article for USA Today discussing some of the dilemmas that society faces concerning the subject of whether juveniles should be tried as adults for the crimes they commit. This has been an ongoing debate as law-makers feel that age serves no purpose depending on the seriousness of the crime. Professor Steinberg disagrees with some of the policies and beliefs of these law-makers and argues that the development of children plays a major role in whether they understand the law well enough to know the consequences for their offence.

In the beginning of Professor Steinberg's article, he starts with an impact statement that catches the attention of the reader. "Transferring juveniles into a criminal justice system that precludes a rehabilitative response may not be very sensible public policy." (Steinberg, 2001) Professor Steinberg continues about the dilemma that society faces as they don't expect children to commit crimes. There is an unforeseen intersection between childhood and criminality that creates a dilemma that seems to be difficult for members of society to resolve. Professor Steinberg feels that the only way out of this dilemma is to redefine the offense as something less serious than a crime or to redefine the offender as someone who is not really a child. (Steinberg, 2001) Professor Steinberg also describes the approach that society has taken in the past by treating most juvenile offenses as delinquent acts and dealing with them in a juvenile judicial system that is designed to recognize the special needs and immature status of young people and emphasize rehabilitation over punishment. Professor Steinberg explains, "there are two guiding beliefs about young people have prevailed: first, that juveniles have different competencies than adults (and therefore need to be adjudicated in a different type of venue); and second that they have different potential for change than adults (and therefore merit a second chance and an attempt at rehabilitation)." (Steinberg, 2001) I do agree that there is a difference in competency and potential of rehabilitation between children and adults.

Professor Steinberg continues to explain the other side of the argument as policymakers and the general public has shifted their views about juvenile crime over the recent past. They feel that it is easier to redefine juveniles as adults rather than assessing the crimes as delinquent offenses, therefore transferring juveniles to an adult judicial system which seems to be wrong and lazy in my opinion. It would make more sense to assess the crime, case by case in the eyes of justice and all fairness rather than opting out to just punish juveniles as adults. However, it seems that it has become a rule to transfer juvenile offenders into an adult judicial system rather than assessing the crime and the various categories. It has become fundamental that these challenges in the past are factors of which the juvenile court system was based. Now it has become fundamental just to assess the offenders as adults, no matter the severity of the crime. Non-violent juvenile offenders are being prosecuted by the thousands in an adult judicial system without the chance of rehabilitation. This makes the system questionable as it conducts the transfer that Professor Steinberg mentions. There is a valid argument in this article as Professor Steinberg explains some of the elements involved that would have a direct impact on the actions of a child that would commit an offense. Some of these factors would include the broad elements of developmental psychology concerning the scientific study of changes in physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development over the life cycle. Professor Steinberg feels that there is a huge difference between children and adults that face normative development. (Steinberg, 2001)

The article continues with a defined group which is of the ages between twelve and seventeen. This is an age of adolescence that is most common and receives the most scrutiny by policymakers. Professor Steinberg states, "First, this age range is an inherently transitional time. There are rapid and dramatic changes in individuals' physical, intellectual, emotional, and social capabilities. Second,



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