Essay Writing Help on Juvenile Incarceration and Charging of Youth as Adults

Juvenile Incarceration and Charging of  Youth as Adults


The establishment of Juvenile court system was established with a sole objective of ensuring fairness and equity in dispensing justice was achieved regardless of age. The interests of children were the greatest drivers in establishment of these court systems. The variations of needs and personality traits possessed by youths were also another essential factor which necessitated the establishment of a  juvenile court system. In their establishment, there was a concept which was introduced and referred as the transfer laws. They represented a paradigm shift from what was traditional regarded as juvenile justice in contrast to the notion of fundamental in justice. Various researches have been conducted and conclusions made on the inadequacy of the adult justice system which are ill-equipped to cope with needs of juvenile delinquencies in the country. The criminal justice system does not meet the needs of the youths in all its processes from trial all through to sentencing and finally to incarceration. There are a number of states in America which have affected the transfer laws with regard to juvenile only to exacerbate the already compounded problem (Laurence 3).

History of Juvenile Court System

There was a drastic change in the juvenile court system in the United States during the nineteenth century.  The ways juvenile were treatment in the face of justice was placed under review. During this period, large cities witnessed the creation of special facilities aimed at handling troubled juveniles and those involved in crimes which if there were adults could have been tried in criminal justice systems. As early as 1825, the Society for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency was very instrumental in establishing New York House of Refuge at New York City to handle cases of juvenile delinquency. This was followed by the city of Chicago establishing the Chicago Reform School which started its operations in 1855. Those who were actively involved in the establishment of these institutions aimed at protecting the juvenile offenders in the country from the adult offenders. In addition, their objective was focused in preventing the juveniles in ending up in crime life later in their future hence focused majorly on rehabilitation aspect (Poythress 76).

It was not until 1899 when the first juvenile court was established in Cook County at the State of Illinois. The idea of juvenile court system got widespread acceptance in the United States and within twenty five years, majority of states had established juvenile court system. The main objective of these juvenile court systems was majorly rehabilitation as opposed to punishment of juvenile offenders. These courts were based and guided by the doctrine of parens patriae which gave the government powers to act as parents the juvenile offenders in these institutions. Guided by the parental guidance, juvenile courts always strived to ensure the best interest of the juvenile was observed and guarded. Their approach emphasized on nonadversarial, informal and flexible. Hence with regard to procedural approaches required in others courts, these courts adhere to none or few of such due to the nature of their operations. Majority of cases under review for these courts were treated as civil with an aim of guiding the juvenile in a life of responsibility as well as law abiding citizen. As part of their rehabilitation programs, the juvenile courts can order a young offender to be withdrawn from their homes and placed under juvenile reform institutions depending on the type of offense for proper and monitored rehabilitation (Simon and David 14).

In comparison to criminal justice system, juvenile reform institutions and court systems are distinctively separate in mandate. While as the criminal justice system is guided by punishing a criminal of the wrongdoings, juvenile court system is aimed at correcting and rehabilitating a problem which is social in nature. Before the establishment of juvenile court system as discussed above, the juvenile offenders was treated the same as adults and tried in criminal justice system without any special privileges or favor whatsoever. Juveniles were also subjected to the harshest punishment for their crimes which included the death penalty. However, majority of juvenile cases were not criminal in nature but rather civil hence requiring a different approach in their operations. When juvenile court system was established, they were a reprieve for juvenile offenders since they got another chance to reform and opportunity to shape their future. Although juvenile court systems were not perfect to challenges and problems for juvenile delinquency, treating and charging juveniles in adult courts is not either the solution. Therefore, improvements and reforms for the juvenile court systems are inevitable to ensure the social delinquency in juveniles is handled appropriately (Laurence 5).

Transfer Laws  

Youths accused of violating the law below the age of 18 years are the ones subjected to juvenile courts. Those above the 18 years line are subjected to criminal courts where juvenile courts have no jurisdiction whatsoever. However, there have been variations as to what age constitutes to juvenile and the line between juvenile courts and criminal courts. Regardless of the line drawn for cases to be tried either in juvenile courts or criminal courts, there are laws in every state which defines which cases to be tried in which courts. Every state has laws which allows and permits the advancement of criminal prosecutions of young people to be tried in criminal courts in though they fall under the juvenile system. These are the laws regarded as transfer laws. Transfer laws are not new in the justice system although in the recent past there having been various legislative changes which have expanded the scope and their mandate. The youthful offending in the country has been shaped by the exceptions provided for in the constitution and executed by the judges. The constitution has always provided juvenile court judges with the powers to waive jurisdiction and transfer juvenile offenders to be tried in the adult courts. It was not until 1970 when juvenile court system simplified the process of transfer of juveniles to criminal court systems to be tried as an adult. According to the 2006 National Report on Juvenile Offenders and Victims report, the US department of justice published various statistics with regard to juvenile and criminal court system. Starting the year 1992, all the states in the US with exemption of Nebraska had instituted various milestones rulings in ensuring easier transfers of juvenile to adult courts. In thirteen states, according to these statistics, the age limit for juvenile has been reduced to 15 or 16 while any young person above these age limits is tried in criminal court system as an adult. Majority of other states like the District of Colombia, there have not been the age restriction and serious crimes like murder and homicides are treated serious crimes and all tried in the criminal court system (Fagan 12).

In 2004, there was a concurrent jurisdiction in twenty two states which meant that both criminal court system and juvenile court system possesses the original jurisdiction with regard to certain categories of offenses. These jurisdictions involved murder cases, drug related cases and other cases with regard to arson of properties. In such states where concurrent jurisdiction is in place, it’s the responsibility of the prosecutor to decide where to prefer the charges; either in criminal justice system or the juvenile court system. This in various instances is dictated and informed by the seriousness of the crime, the age of the offender rand circumstances surrounding the committed crime. In the same year (2004) more than twenty nine states had enforced statutory exclusion provisions in dispensing justice to all. This statutory execution meant that, serious crimes like drugs, homicides and murder were excluded from the juvenile court jurisdiction hence subject to criminal courts system. As earlier discussed, these changes which have been effected with regard to jurisdiction have made it easier for serious crimes like murder, homicides and drugs to be transferred to adult courts and handles as crimes in nature and no age factor is considered in determining the sentences to be handled to the offenders. In such cases, the criminal justice system becomes more inclined to provision of punishment and retribution with no or less emphasis to rehabilitation and behavior correction (Poythress 79).

Juvenile and the Death Penalty

This has been a controversial debate on whether to sentence juveniles to death sentence or confine them to rehabilitation facilities. This was landmarked by a case in Oklahoma in 1988 where the Supreme Court was drawn in a case where the judge had to draw a thin line between who an adult was and the child age. On an emotional charged case where a fifteen years boy was charged with active participation of murder of a brother in law, the Supreme Court judges concluded that the boy was old and mature enough to understand and comprehend the consequences of his actions. In addition, they found out that, he consciously participated in the murder fully aware of his actions. Therefore, the District attorney filed a petition to declare the boy as having control of his full mental capacity in distinguishing right and wrong and understanding the wrongfulness of his actions at that time. From such arguments, the judges concluded that the boy ought to be tried as an adult in criminal justice courts. After thorough assessment and the judges ascertained the boy did not have any chance of rehabilitation, they committed and certified him to full trial as an adult. When the trial started, he was convicted for the crimes in the criminal courts as an adult and sentenced to death for the murder (Laurence 7).

Cases of young offenders in their fifteen and sixteen years have been common in various states ad debates have been ranging with regard to their justification in convicting these offenders to adult courts. Such was the case in Oklahoma in 1988 when a fifteen years old boy was also tried and committed in the criminal court system. The plurality of the court judges regarded this punishment as unfair and declared it constituted to unusual punishment and cruel in the face of the law. They based their arguments on the Eighth Amendment affected to the constitution with regard to evolving standards of decency. In their defense of the assertion, the plurality quoted 18 other states with regard to their definition of minimum age as far as capital punishments are concerned. In their conclusion, all the eighteen states under review, they found the minimum age limit set as sixteen hence conclusion from their decision to declare the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment. Their decision was also guided by the opinion and standards provided by the American Bar Association which was amicus curiae in the case which had opposed the death penalty for the juvenile in this case (Simon and David 16).

They have been other valid opinions with regard to transferring of juveniles to adult courts indicating the process precludes all possible rehabilitative response. This in addition may not be sensible to the established public policy in the justice system of any country. As quoted by Laurence Steinberg (2001), he said;

“Few issues challenge a society’s ideas about the natures of human development and justice as much as serious juvenile crime. Because people neither expect children to be criminals nor expect crimes to be committed by them, the unforeseen intersection between childhood and criminality creates a dilemma that most of us find difficult to resolve. The only way out of this dilemma is either to redefine the offense as something less serious than a crime or to redefine the offender as someone who is not really a child.”

As indicated above, the American society has always stuck with the first definition and approach. The law has redefined juvenile offenses and crimes by regarding most of them as delinquent acts and crimes to be adjudicated by an independent and separate juvenile justice system. This is aimed at taking in consideration the theoretical design aimed at recognizing the immature status and need of young people by emphasizing rehabilitation as opposed to punishment and retribution. The reason behind this argument is based on two major arguments; first is the fact that juveniles possesses different and various competencies compared to adults. Therefore, juveniles ought to be adjudicated in a total different system of justice and venue. Secondly, juveniles are considered to possess a great potential of change compared to adults. This fact guides the award of second chance for rehabilitation compared to adults. Numerous states have recognized the importance of considering more than conduct committed by juveniles – the alleged criminal acts which ought not to be independently relied upon in convicting juveniles with heavy hand involved in criminal justice system used for adults. Such great concerns were aired by Laurence Steinberg (2001) who noted;

“In recent years, though, there has been a dramatic shift in the way juvenile crime is viewed by policymakers and the general public, one that has led to widespread changes in policies and practices concerning the treatment of juvenile offenders. Rather than choosing to define offenses committed by youth as delinquent, society increasingly is opting to redefine them as adults and transfer them to the adult court and criminal justice system.”  (Laurence 11)

However, there are several people across the country who reasonably believes that a small number of juvenile offenders ought to be tried in adult court system because of the potential threat they pose both to the public and to other young offenders. They argue that their actions merit a severe punishment which is more than rehabilitation hence conviction to criminal justice system is the only way. This observations and opinions however do not describe or refer to thousands of those in adult justice system already undergoing trial especially convicted with nonviolent crimes. Those against the trial of juvenile to adult system observes that, when the massive transfer of juvenile offenders to adults courts is the rule rather than an exception, the country will be facing a fundamental challenge anchored to the very premise which founded the juvenile courts. The initial demarcation of adults and adolescents would be thrown out of the window and the country would be back to dark days where adolescents were mistreated and their potential for rehabilitation goes unexploited (Robert and Martha 47).

Transfer policies as discussed above can be viewed using numerous and different lenses. Development psychologists considers the distinctions as they strive to create a different between adults and adolescents actions guided by age in various aspects like emotional, intellectual as well as social reasoning. The basis of human development according to the developmental psychologists ought to be the determining factor of whether to transfer juvenile crime cases to be tried in criminal justice system or resolve to undertake rehabilitation of these adolescents. The issues of age plays a significant role in such matters with age factor been the most dominant preposition of determining which cases to be taken to juvenile courts and where exemption should be done for a transfer to adult criminal justice system. In view of developmental psychologists, the physical, emotional, social and intellectual development over the life time of an individual should be considered. They emphasize the study of normative development to be considered in all such matters to ensure equality and justice is done in all trials especially those involving juvenile offenders. However, critics of normative development have challenged the use of social development in warranting the preferential treatment whenever a crime is concerned. They consider the age limit under review as a transitional time which witnesses drastic and dramatic changes in an individual’s intellectual, physical, social and emotional capabilities. This is the period under which a line ought to be drawn based on the incompetence of competencies of an individual and their responsibility towards the actions they commit. In defending their assertions, American Bar Associated points out pertinent issues which ought to be considered when the issue of age and normative development is considered. They observe that,

“Adolescence is a period of potential malleability. Experiences in the family, peer group, school, and other settings still have a chance to influence the course of development. To the extent that malleability is likely, transferring juveniles into a criminal justice system that precludes a rehabilitative response may not be very sensible public policy. However, to the extent that adolescents’ amenability is limited, their transfer to the adult system is less worrisome. Finally, adolescence is a formative period during which a number of developmental trajectories become firmly established and increasingly difficult to alter. Many adolescent experiences have a tremendous cumulative impact. Bad decisions or poorly formulated policies pertaining to juvenile offenders may have unforeseen and harmful consequences that are very hard to undo.” (Simon and David 19)

It is worth noting that age is a factor which cannot be washed and ignored away when dealing with juvenile crimes and justice system. In addition to age, the nature of crimes committed should be a matter of discussion whenever transfer of cases is considered. In fact the current debate of transfer of laws is more focused on the seriousness and harmfulness of the crimes as opposed to the age of the offender. Recent surveys in this regard indicate a consensus of 80 percent of voter indicating their preferences of juvenile crimes tried in criminal court system as adults. Their reason is based by the fact that, by committing juvenile offenders in adult prisons would act as a strong deterrent to young people who are in the same crime line. With regard to achieving this objective, the recent past has witnessed more and more states allowing prosecutors the freeway to charge juvenile offenders as adults. However, this notion has been challenged and strong opposition aired of treating juvenile as adults as a cruel and unjustified punished aimed at retribution as opposed to rehabilitation and serving justice (White 21).

The effects of subjecting juvenile offenders to criminal courts are far much reaching both at personal level as well individual levels. As earlier discussed, the establishment of juvenile court system over one hundred years ago was necessitated by the harsh treatment witnessed whenever juveniles were tried and sentenced to adult prisons. Adolescent presents a formative period in the human development trajectory with a number of development stages which are inherent and entrenched in a human being hence difficult to alter them. This makes many adolescents to experience numerous changes with cumulative impact which are difficult to change.

 Therefore, when an inappropriate decision and policy is implemented with regard to the youth offenders may result to harmful and unforeseen circumstances which might be difficult to alter. This statement brings the question of why it is even important to consider the development perspective while discussing such a contemporary issue. From such arguments, it’s practically impossible to ignore the issue of age while dealing with juvenile offenders. It becomes impossible and unfair for the justice system to apply the same punishment to an adolescent as would be done to an adult especially when the young offender did not understand the consequences of the actions. When the law is applied in such circumstances, the law should put in consideration the effects of normative development of a child and the status of an adult. This is guided by the consideration that the minors’ actions were largely influenced and affected by emotional immaturity. Moreover, there are varying implications as well as consequences which come up when a juvenile offender is treated the same as an adult offender (Laurence 14).

While treating adolescents offenders as adults, there are various implications which come out of such action taken over by authorities to transfer juvenile offenders to be tried in criminal legal systems. The implications were discussed by Laurence Steinberg (2001) as follows;

“First, transfer to adult court alters the legal process by which a minor is tried. Criminal court is based on an adversarial model, while juvenile court is based, at least in theory, on a more cooperative model. This difference in the climates of juvenile vs. adult courts is significant because it is unclear at what age individuals have sufficient understanding of the ramifications of the adversarial process and the different vested interests of prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges. Young defendants may simply not have what it takes–by the standards established in the Constitution–to be able to defend themselves in criminal court. Second, the legal standards applied in adult and juvenile courts are different. For example, competence to stand trial is presumed among adult defendants unless they suffer from a serious mental illness or substantial mental retardation. We do not know if the presumption of competence holds for juveniles, who, even in the absence of mental retardation or mental illness, may lack sufficient competence to participate in the adjudicative process. Standards for judging culpability may be different in juvenile and adult courts as well. In the absence of mental illness or substantial deficiency, adults are presumed to be responsible for their own behavior. We do not know the extent to which this presumption applies to juveniles, or whether the validity of this presumption differs as a function of the juvenile’s age. Finally, the choice of trying a young offender in adult vs. juvenile court determines the possible outcomes of the adjudication. In adult court, the outcome of being found guilty of a serious crime is nearly always some sort of punishment. In juvenile court, the outcome of being found delinquent may be some sort of punishment, but juvenile courts typically retain the option of a rehabilitative disposition, in and of itself or in combination with some sort of punishment. This has two significant ramifications: the stakes of the adjudication are substantially greater and, in juvenile court, offenders generally are presumed amenable unless the prosecutor demonstrates otherwise. In adult court, amenability is not presumed, and must instead be shown by the defendant’s counsel.” (Poythress 84)

In other words, it can be concluded that, every decision maker as well as policy prescribers floats various ideas within the confines of how juvenile offenders ought to be treated. The basic principles of juvenile legal system operation is based on the presumptions that while conducting the criminal act, the adolescent was acting in an immature manner guided by incomplete social and emotional development. These social and emotional developments presumes juvenile judgment is less than mature, their characteristics of life and social issues is still in developmental processes and finally their growth is in formation stages. This basis of argument forms a fundamental support towards the juvenile justice system which should be considered while conferring judgment on a juvenile offender. On the other hand, adult courts operate under different circumstantial environment where adults are viewed in various lenses which ultimately determine the punishment they receive in accordance to the criminal justice system. In contrast, criminal justice system treats adults as mature individuals will full control of their thinking capacities and capable to account for their actions at any time. In this set up, the defendants are considered and treated as responsible, mature, competent and highly unlikely to experience behavioral change (Simon and David 21).

While discussing the tendencies of developmental psychologists in determining the guiding principles to be used by policy makers and prosecutors in determining the transfer laws, the age factor has featured predominantly. Juveniles ought not to be subjected to the harsh consequences accompanying the criminal court adjudications. There should be a certain age limit where a juvenile offender is tried and treated as so regardless of the nature of the offense committed. However, this assertion does not give a walk free preposition or go unpunished attitude whenever they are involved in crimes. It implies that such cases should be handled and treated under the right system which follows all procedures and considers all factors associated with juvenile development as well as growth characteristics as opposed to be handled like fully mature adults (Laurence 22).

In this regard, individuals older than sixteen years in way of thinking and operational behaviors are not any different from adults when actions and behaviors are concerned; therefore, their subjection to criminal legal system is always the best alternative. However, individuals committing crimes younger than sixteen years but older than twelve years ought to undergo a series of tests and assessments to ascertain their capability to stand trial in either court rather than unilateral transfer decision is concluded. Prosecutors, judges and defense lawyers should be allowed to exercise their professional assessment and judgments in determining the individual offender’s state of mind, behaviors and maturity level which may or may not warranty eligibility for transfer.

There have been various debates and arguments though in fact holds but may not be appropriate while judging various offenders while separated by age. It is true and factual that when a bullet is fired by an adult and another one by a juvenile, the hurting effect may be the same or even higher in the latter case. However, such an argument may be red herring in consideration that they are various mitigation factors which are always considered while a defendant is to stand trial like influence of drugs, self-defense, insanity or emotional duress. In the same way and argument, immaturity is considered as a mitigating factor under such circumstances. There have been instances which people differ greatly on the ways in which, the extent to which, and the age at which a juvenile offender’s maturity level should be actively be put in consideration while reaching a decision in court on such matters. There are always variations where an individual may propose the age boundary to be placed at eighteen years; another one proposes the age of 15, while still others goes with thirteen years. Nevertheless, when the offenders’ age is completely ignored in the courtroom, there is usually a likelihood of dealing with many huge and enormous challenges later on in the process.

Juvenile Offenders Should not be Treated as Adults

The American juvenile policy of late has undergone numerous changes and can be described to be in transition period. This is majorly necessitated by the declining levels of juvenile delinquency in the United States. When tough juvenile principles and policies were enacted in the 1990s and early 2000s, they were moral panic that gripped the country across all states. These tough reforms eroded all existing boundaries between juvenile and criminal courts systems consequently exposed juvenile offenders to retributions and harsh punishments. The current trends in the country among state legislatures and policy makers have suggested a shift of though from the get-tough measures to more considerate approach in consideration of juvenile in mind. The punitive measures and standards have been reconsidered across the country especially in those states which were known for such drastic action towards juvenile offenders.

The current trend in treating juvenile offenders can only be described as a pendulum which has achieved its intended objective and the trend is going back to towards moderate and more lenient policies in regard to juvenile treatment. This has caused the general public, politicians and policy makers to regret the punitive measures due to huge financial implications which were not anticipated in the initial stages. In addition, these policies have proved to be very ineffective in both punishing as well reforming juvenile offenders hence need for review or even total overhaul of these policies. There are various milestones which have been enacted and achieved recently towards streamlining juvenile delinquency deterrents. As for Roper v. Simmons’ outcome dispensed by the Supreme Court in 2005, totally abolishing juvenile death penalty whatsoever, various states have repealed while other are seriously considering the repealing death penalty on juvenile crimes. In its place, numerous states are considering imposing sentences of life without parole with regard to juvenile murderers. Other states considering the souring economic implications have scaled back to more moderate measures whenever juvenile offenders are involved. To avert any economic showdown with such punitive legislation, there are numerous states which have increased funding and advocated for community based programs to act as alternative to institutional placements involving young offenders. According to Laurence Steinberg (2008), he noted that,

“In a few states where youth under eighteen are prosecuted in adult criminal court instead of juvenile court, promising efforts are under way to increase the age to eighteen, as it is in most states. Finally, several states have expanded procedural protection for juveniles in criminal court by enacting statutory provisions authorizing findings of incompetence to stand trial on the basis of developmental immaturity. Although many of the punitive reforms of the 1990s still remain in place, a policy shift appears to have taken place.”

There are several notable policy changes which have been in place with regard to how the country legal system has dealt with juvenile offenders. Among those trends is the sharp decline witnessed in juvenile offenses especially from 1994. There have been observation that in the 1980s when juvenile delinquency was on the rise, punitive measure were proposed, in the same way now that juvenile offenses are on decline, policy makers have been prompted to revert back to the moderate policies to deal with such cases. This has as well been encouraged by the downward trends which have characterized the juvenile offenders recently. Other factors which have facilitated such a paradigm shift is the media attention that has been drawn with regard to the social science between adolescent age development on one hand and juvenile delinquency and crimes on the other.

The media has been very vocal in in pointing out existing scientific studies and evidences in existence pointing lack of mental and emotional maturity in juveniles as compared to adults. In addition, they have advocated that juveniles ought to be given a second chance. Public participation and support of the established rehabilitation programs has also been another alternative offered instead of focusing on juvenile crimes transfers to criminal justice system. Finally, research and empirical evidences have suggested the not cost-effective approach of subjecting juvenile offenders to criminal justice system and its implications to the economy of the country. The government has also recorded high economic costs with the program of incarcerating juvenile in adult courts recently. The more compelling factor for abolition of treating juvenile offenders in adult courts perhaps comes from the observation that, those juvenile offenders released from adult courts have higher chances of indulging in crimes again than those who were subjected to juvenile rehabilitation facilities. These factors especially the later one have increased the public debate with regard to treating juvenile delinquency, crimes and offenses like those committed by adults (Anita 99).

These developments for sure have heartened the proposers of the fact that, juvenile crimes need to be approached with justice of separating adolescents with adults. However caution should be exercised to ensure naivety does not cloud policy makers, prosecutors and judges’ sight for reducing juvenile crimes and the trend goes unabated. Juvenile crimes have been documented to rise and fall cyclically over a period of four decades. This does not give a justification that such crimes are not likely to witness an upward trend even though if it does, may not likely to reach the levels it were in the 1990s where extreme cases were recorded. In general view, juvenile crimes have witnessed a downward trend; however, there have been isolated cases in the last one to two years where cases of juvenile crimes have been recorded frequently. There is no evidence point that the recent upward records of juvenile crimes is a reversal of relatively low levels of juvenile crimes experienced in over a decade, or rather it’s just a transient fluctuation. In the past, it has been observed that, media reports of an increasing rate of juvenile crimes is always accompanied by change in policies to abate the vice, caution should be exercised when such a move is considered (Laurence 19).

Trying Juvenile as Adults

There have been racial disparities which have been witnessed virtually in every stage of juvenile justice system though some have been striking with regard to waivers advanced with respect to juvenile in adult courts.

“In his article, Jeffrey Fagan, of Columbia Law School, examines recent efforts to redraw the boundary between the juvenile and criminal justice systems and the findings of studies comparing juveniles who have been tried and sanctioned as adults with those who have committed comparable crimes but are retained in the juvenile justice system. As Fagan notes, juvenile court judges have always had the option of transferring or waiving juveniles to criminal court, so in that sense, the fact that some juveniles are tried as adults is not new. What has changed in recent decades is the increase in the wholesale movement of large numbers of juveniles into the adult system, either because a state lowered the age boundary dividing juvenile and criminal court jurisdiction, because certain offenses and offenders are automatically excluded from the juvenile court and remanded to the criminal court for prosecution, or because wider discretion has been given to prosecutors in making decisions about the venue in which to charge particular crimes.”

Recent studies have shown more than 25 percent of all juvenile offenders have been transferred to adult courts from trial. Researches have indicated that, lower levels of juvenile offenses are not much lower in states where transfer laws are strictly adhered in prosecuting juvenile crimes as adults like where they are few such cases. A preposition to discourage juvenile offenders from tried in adult courts is the assertion that, those tried in adult courts are more like to engage in crimes again than those subjected to juvenile legal system. These observations question the wisdom and rationale of transferring laws enacted to juvenile offenders to be tried in criminal justice system together with adults. Juvenile crime control mechanism does not in any way advocate for the transfer laws hence their implementation is a misplaced priority in numerous states.

Tommy G Thompson in his article “Juvenile law needs to come in to ’90s” argues;

“Children who rob and murder should be punished in accordance with the severity of their crimes, not the “tenderness” of their age. Youths who run with gangs, terrorizing their neighborhoods, are as frightening as adults; more so, in fact, because they are corrupted so early”. He also states; “gangs are able to use those youths to commit crimes, knowing the punishment won’t be as severe”.  In agreement with Thompson, most juvenile delinquents are “run by” gang members and criminal master minds but instead of punishing these young people with adult prosecution and sentencing why don’t we capture the true perpetrators behind it all and clean up our streets from drug dealers and gang violence. We are not born devious and malicious; people are molded into who they become. It is common sense that humans adapts to their surroundings and are influenced by their upbringing that can determine who he or she may be in the future. However I am not stating that is an excuse to do the same wrong. There comes a time in our lives when we have to decide who we ought to be. Do we follow the malevolent ways of those who surround us? Or do we make a difference and shine in the mist of darkness? (Thompson 14)

As earlier discussed, substance and drug abuse among juvenile ought to be considered to ensure the transfers are not done merely guided by the nature of the offense but rather after consideration of all factors to ensure justice is served to all parties. The prevalence of substance and drug abuse among juvenile offenders was observed to be higher and more likely to occur compared to the general population. It also worth noting that, substance and drug abuse in itself is an illegal act, however consideration need to be taken in to account whenever a juvenile crime is committed under heavy influence of such crimes which should guide whether juvenile offenders requires to be transferred to criminal justice system. Therefore, there is a clear line between substance abuse and juvenile crimes in various states and by treating the substance abuse in the auspices of juvenile justice system seems to be more appealing than transfer laws. This is so due to the relationship that does occur when substance abuse is reduced. Whenever there is a reduction of substance and drug abuse among the juveniles, the crime rates is drastically reduced. Therefore, policy makers and politicians should re-evaluate their strategies and policies with regard to transfer laws and focus on better alternatives to abate the trend of juvenile crimes (William 43).

Why do youth commit crimes?

As observed by Richard Freeman, the past decades in the United States has witnessed more and more youths involved in crimes. Majority of these youths are uneducated and blacks despite a widespread campaign and public awareness of imprisonment for such crimes. As noted by Freedman (1996);

“From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, the United States roughly tripled the number of men in prison or jail, so that by 1993 one man was incarcerated for every 50 men in the workforce. Incapacitation of so many criminals should have greatly reduced the crime rate: if the worst offenders are in prison, they can’t mug, rob or otherwise commit offenses against the citizenry. But no such drastic reduction in crime occurred. The number of crimes reported to the police roughly stabilized while the rate of victimizations (which includes crimes not reported to the police) dropped far less rapidly than could reasonably be expected. No institutionalized men evidently “replaced” incarcerated criminals in committing crimes.”

There are various questions which disturbs people especially legislatures whenever they evaluate youths and their behaviors, despite high risks of imprisonment, many young uneducated and black youth have continued to engage in crimes across the country. What perturb many are the motives and drivers behind such unprecented rate of many youths engaging in crime. However, many have argued the collapse of the job market is partly to blame for the rise in youths engaging in crimes to available huge and untapped potential among these young people. The high number of youths engaging in crime has been explained by the uneducated levels souring high with the increased unemployment rates increasing. In addition, out of all those convicted with crimes, it’s only a small proportion of that number that gets integrated back in society with proper rehabilitation to join the job market.

Therefore, this disconnect between jail or prison term and smooth integration in society may be a significant factor that forces youths to engage in crimes in numerous states. Out of all the offenders in prison, more than 60 percent returns to the society either with reduced labor skills as well as opportunities which are essential in life after prison while their criminal skills are enhanced. This trend tend to foster more criminal thoughts in young people who cannot secure an employment after rehabilitation or jail term hence increasing their chances of engaging in crime. Many incarcerated youths have poor employment records hence unable to get employment opportunities hence resulting to a crime life (Poythress 88).

Another factor which has been cited is the labor market incentives which influences men especially those in young age brackets to crime. The more labor incentives are available in the market, the less people to be involved in crimes. However, when labor market incentives are minimal especially among the youths, crime rate is usually high. It is observed that, young men responds to relative job rewards, hence it is worth considering increasing the job rewards and incentives to deter men especially those in young ages from crimes. Drugs have also been cited as the leading cause of youths engaging in drugs. In this regard, majority of the population affected by this factor are the black Americans who are highly addicted to drugs. It is estimated that earning from drugs are more and attractive hence they shy away from other forms of decent earning to drugs. Whenever they are in drugs, the crime rate and incentive is as well high. Youths committing crimes like robbery, rape and burglary under the influence of substance abuse have been on the rise. They are those who commit crimes to get some earnings to buy drugs while other are engaged in crimes to sustain the market demand for the drugs. Finally in this discussion, the inequalities that exist in society contribute to many youths committing crimes.

“In the most comprehensive study, Lee (1993) found a substantive positive relation between levels of earnings inequality and crime rates across metropolitan areas in 1970 and 1980. His estimates suggest that the increased inequality in the 1980s induced a 10 percent increase in crime, as measured by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report index. However, when Lee compared changes in inequality with changes in crime among metropolitan areas, he found no relation. Perhaps this is because measures of changes in inequality reflect noise in the data, or perhaps it is a clue that the cross-area relation reflects an omitted area variable rather than a true link from inequality to crime.” (Steven 58)

Another factor influencing the youths to engage in crime is the perception of risk as well as earning opportunities. Lack of proper public awareness have also been cited as incentive for youths engaging in crime, many have no idea what they are getting themselves into and end up regretting their decisions the rest of their lives. The society should also strive to achieve crime control mechanisms to enable the authorities to firmly deal with crime especially among the youths. The social stigma associated with incarceration also plays a significant role in enticing youths to crime. When a person has fully served his jail sentence, the society ought to welcome him and help in integration process rather than excluding them. When excluded, the only company they have is for those who have been in prison hence more likely than not find themselves back to their former life. This is closely related to the factor of peer pressure among their peers. There is power of association where individuals are more likely to take after their friends and copy whatever they do. They might be willingly being influenced to join the life of crime of the groups’ principles and policies demands a certain lifestyle where an individual has to behave in a certain manner. Whatever the case, many youths are been induced to the life of crime due to peer pressure. Reasons why youths engage in crime is summarized by Laurence Steinberg (2008) as follows; Adolescents’ relative developmental immaturity contributes to immature judgment and criminal behavior in the following ways:

  • Poor decision making: Teens are less able to process information quickly and thoughtfully in real-world situations. Their ability to make good decisions in situations that require a fast and well -thought out response is sometimes flawed—such as whether or not to go along with a friend to steal a car for a joyride—because they do not have the ability to process the ramifications of the action quickly.
  • Not thinking about the future: Teens are less likely than adults to consider the long-term consequences of their actions, termed “future orientation.” This reduces their fear of punishment in the future—such as the possibility of going to jail—and leads them to choose the fun of the present over the pain of the future. This is the reason that scare tactics in programs like DARE are largely ineffective.
  • Giving in to peer pressure: Adolescents are more easily influenced by, pay more attention to, spend more time with, and are more responsive to their peers than adults are with friends. Teens are more likely to change their decisions or alter their behavior in response to peer pressure—to use drugs or initiate risky behavior in group situations in order to elevate their status or avoid real or imagined peer rejection.
  • Risk taking: Teenagers engage in more risky behavior than adults. There are two “blind spots” that adolescents have when it comes to assessing risk that work together to increase their risk
  • -taking behavior: 1) While teens demonstrate that they understand the level of risk associated with a given behavior under ideal (and simulated) conditions, they fail to consider these same risks in real-world situations; and 2) adolescents are more “reward sensitive” (the rush of driving fast) and less “risk averse” (getting a ticket or being in an accident) than adults.
  • Impulsivity and self-control: Adolescents are more reckless than adults because they are still developing the ability to control impulses. In addition, adolescents experience more rapid and extreme changes in mood than adults do. High levels of emotional arousal, whether anger or elation, have been connected to difficulties with self-control. The combination of moodiness and impulsivity leads adolescents to have more difficulty in controlling their behavior than adults.
  • Unformed identity: The development of one’s sense of self—one’s values, plans, attitudes, and beliefs—is one of the fundamental tasks of adolescence. During adolescence, identity is fluid, constantly changing and evolving as teens try to figure out who they are. An important part of the process of forming one’s identity is experimentation with different activities and roles, which often includes risky behavior and sometimes includes engaging in crime.

Those factors can be summarized as those that contribute to youths engaging in crime.

The Development of Youth Brain

For a long time, parents have held the assertion that, youth brains and the process of development is different from that of adults. According to National Institute of

Mental Health (NIMH), they concluded that, youth brain as opposed to those of a mature person is always work in progress in every stage of their development. These findings are contrary to many assertions that held the fully development of a person’s brain is fully complete by the age of 10 to 12 years. NIMH in their finding concluded that, much of an individual’s brain which is mostly responsible for sound judgment, organization, emotions and self-control occurs between the development stages of puberty and adulthood. For this understanding, it helps in explaining various youthful behaviors which are mystifying to adults such as emotional outburst, recklessness and poor decision making. According to Dr. Jay Giedd with NIMH, the brain of an adolescent is always in the development stages during the puberty years and continues even in early 20s. The Dr describes brain development as follows;

“Following the overproduction of gray matter, the brain undergoes a process called “pruning” where connections among neurons in the brain that are not used wither away, while those that are used stay—the “use it or lose it” principle. It is thought that this pruning process makes the brain more efficient by strengthening the connections that are used most often, and eliminating the clutter of those that are not used at all.” (NIH 2)

Youths have the capability to control how their brains are wired and functions as it grow unlike infants whose brain development is majorly determined and shaped by their parents. “Kids who “exercise” their brains by learning to order their thoughts, under-stand abstract concepts, and control their impulses are laying the neural foundations that will serve them for the rest of their lives. “This argues for doing a lot of things as a teenager,” says Dr. Giedd. Adolescents have a large proportion of their brain control in the stages of their development. Whenever youths consume toxic substances like alcohol and drugs, these substances greatly and negatively interferes with brain development much more severely than it does in adults. This is mostly due to the concept of “work in progress” of youth brains contrary to the adult brains which are full developed. When youth brain development process is interfered with either by toxic substances, the long term effects is enormous and has far reaching negative effects which should not be ignored (NIH 5).

Brain development process in adolescent usually has four major components which finally forms a mature and well developed brain during adulthood. The front lobe which deals with emotional regulation, self-control and restructuring majorly when the youth is at ten years of age; corpus callosum concerned with intelligence, self-awareness and consciousness which fully reaches maturity during 20s. Third is the parietal lobe which deals with visual, integrate auditory and tactile signals which is usually immature till the age of sixteen. Finally is the temporal lobe which controls emotional maturity which is a continuous development even at the age of sixteen. The process of brain development among the youths adds a dynamic approach from how they think to their behaviors unlike adults who have a conditioned pattern of doing things which can be predictable. Youths are always empowered with chances and all types of opportunities in the process of developing their brains through various activities they undertake and choose to fully participate (NIH 5).

In conclusion therefore, there are various reasons why youths should not be treated as adults and why every crime requires equal treatment. When a juvenile offender is involved with gun robbery, the plain he inflicts the victim is equal to the same pain if it were an adult. Proponents of this assertion demands equal treatment of criminals whether they are juvenile or not noting that by trying juveniles as adults and incarcerating to adult prisons will act as a strong deterrent to other such behaviors. However, they are those against such measures and prefer strengthening of juvenile justice system to deal with juvenile crimes regardless of the nature. In their support, they argue that juvenile have great potential for reform and all they require is a second chance to become properly integrated in the society. They support their argument with the different levels of brain development of youth which they regard as work in progress. Therefore, juvenile require a second chance to change their behaviors and require more of rehabilitation as opposed to retribution and punishment.

Works Cited

Fagan, Jeffrey. “Adolescents, Maturity, and the Law.” The American Prospect, 2005. Print.

Poythress, Norman, et al. “The Competence-Related Abilities of Adolescent Defendants in Criminal Court.” Law and human behavior, 2006,30(1):75-92.

Thompson, Tommy G. “Juvenile law needs to come in to ’90s.” Milwaukee Sentinel. 1992. Print.

National Institutes of Health (NIH). Adolescent Alcohol Dependence May Damage Brain Function. NIH News Release, 2000. Print.

White, A. Alcohol and Adolescent Brain Development, American Journal of Science, 22(3): 2012.

Laurence, Steinberg. Should Juvenile Offenders Be Tried as Adults? (Rehabilitation at issue), 2001, 29(4): 1-34.

William, Claiborne, “13-Year-Old Convicted in Shooting: Decision to Try Youth as Adult Sparked Juvenile Justice Debate,” Washington Post, 17 November 2001.

Robert, Siegler, and Martha, Alibali. Children’s Thinking (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2005), p.55–64.

Anita, Greene, “Future-Time Perspective in Adolescence: The Present of Things Future Revisited,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 2006, 12(5): 99–113.

Simon, Singer, and David, McDowell. “Criminalizing Delinquency: The Deterrent Effects of the New York Juvenile Offender Law,” Law & Society Review, 1988, 22(3): 12-56.

Steven, Levitt, “Juvenile Crime and Punishment,” Journal of Political Economy, 1998, 106(6): 58–85.