Juvenile justice is among the hot topics discussed worldwide in legal and social circles. Although the judicial system was established long back, there is no proper juvenile justice system in place in most countries.
Most countries don’t distinguish between juveniles and adults, and both are sentenced as per adult laws. It brings us to the question – should juveniles be tried as adults?
There are various arguments that are “for” and “against” trying juveniles as adults. However, there is widespread agreement that juvenile law and policy reforms are required.
Keeping the juvenile crime rate and the psychological level of juveniles in view, let’s explore: “Why should juveniles not be tried as adults?”
Most of the states in the U.S. have different laws and policies concerning juveniles. One can find that some states try juveniles as adults and imprison them with adult inmates. In many of these cases, juveniles face brutal attacks from other adult inmates and are subjected to inhuman conditions.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that over one million children are incarcerated worldwide. Many are imprisoned in deplorable, harsh, and critical conditions. Furthermore, they are bereaved of education, meaningful activities, or contact with the outside world.
One can also note that many of these juvenile convicts have been imprisoned when they were children and have received disproportionate sentences. It can also be seen that some children were held for acts that weren’t crimes, such as skipping school, running away from home, etc.,
According to recent studies, shifting children from juvenile court to adult court does not reduce recidivism and, in fact, increases criminality. Furthermore, research states that juveniles, including teenagers, behave irrationally. They are immature and can make decisions on impulse.
Such behavior requires assistance for redemption and change. And as such, juvenile detention facilities have proper programs to aid in the reformation process. This kind of help is absent in adult prisons. Instead, those places add more stress and can doom them for life.
While serious crimes such as murder need careful analysis and punishment for crime, sentencing juveniles for petty crimes do not make sense. And also, juveniles must not be tried as adults since their mental development is incomplete.
As noted above, juveniles in adult prison are five times more likely to be sexually raped and about fifty percent more likely to be assaulted with a weapon. Furthermore, they are likely to be tortured physically by jail employees and eight times more probably to commit suicide than youngsters in juvenile facilities.
Young people sentenced in adult courts face the same sentences as adults. This puts child criminals at the back of the line for any rehabilitation programs and further presents them with a life without parole.
As a result, it is hard to apply for pardon due to the failure to testify to any form of rehabilitation. Therefore, it is not appropriate to hold teenagers and children who are not yet of legal drinking age to grown-up standards of punishment.
There are differences in identifying the differences between adults and minors in various other areas of law. Juveniles are not given the same duties and rights as adults because they are deemed incapable of making adult decisions.
It must be noted that reforms have to be made in various areas and policies concerning juvenile justice. For instance, juveniles must be tried in youth courts and not be seen through the lens of adults. The punishment or reformative actions must be conducive to their reformation.
One can consider adopting strategies followed in European countries to try juveniles developmentally appropriately. Taking European practices into account can help avoid the harm that can be caused by prosecuting very young children.
It also allows appropriately serving older teens as per their crime. Furthermore, because young adults are over-represented in the U.S. criminal system and have the highest recidivism rates, reforms could benefit both youth and public safety.
To conclude, trying juveniles as adults must be stopped, and proper reforms must be brought to the system. Knee-jerk measures, such as prosecuting more 16- and 17-year-olds in adult court with the fear of permanent criminal records and lengthy prison sentences, are not the solution to the crime problem.
We must rehabilitate juvenile offenders rather than shackling them with adult criminal punishments that will create lifelong hurdles to employment and education. We’ve seen the devastation that resulted, and we shouldn’t go there again.
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