|← Juvenile Delinquency Causes and Prevention||Developmental Theorists →|
Many traits and habits are part of human nature such as nurturing, bonding with various relationships and feeling happiness. However, there are also negative aspects such as feeling despair, jealousy and anger. This anger, coupled with unfortunate circumstances, can easily lead to drastic actions or crimes like theft, assault or even murder. In contrast to the past, crime rates have significantly increased, especially in the juvenile category (Steinberg). From theft, arsonists, and rape, younger children and teenagers are increasingly the culprits. Research blames the media, technological advancements while social workers blame the lack of proper parenting and stable home environments (Schwartz). Despite the many causes, the main focus is that children should never be tried as adults and should instead be provided with correctional and rehabilitation facility treatments in order to help them improve, benefiting society and themselves in the future.
Holding a child criminally responsible at an adult level for any crime is a scientific paradox and goes against common sense. Children and teenagers do not share the same emotional, physical and moral makeup as adults which have been proven multiple times through research. A statement released by the MacArthur Foundation for Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice stated that “teenagers are less blameworthy than adults, and their capacities change significantly over the course of adolescence” (Steinberg). In 2009, eleven years old Jordan Brown faced the possibility of an adult trial after he shot his father’s pregnant fiancé; however, psychologists confirmed that “(at 9) he simply couldn’t process information and plan a crime like an adult” (Schwartz).
Since underage minors are prohibited to vote, drink alcohol or drive because the law states that they are incapable of physically and emotionally carrying out the associated responsibilities with these privileges, then it does not make sense to punish them as adults. In fact, by labeling children as culprits, adults damage them emotionally, affecting their entire adult lives. Often times, minors who are held in prison for long periods of time fail to realize society’s breaking down of roles, and easily accept their roles as criminals, thinking that society expects them to repeat their actions. Deborah Orr states, “If a child has behaved in a fashion that he or she feels he had little or no control over, and then is told this is "criminal", then the child is being taught that his or her criminality is something over which he has no control.” The most obvious harm to such labels is the kid is constantly bullied by peers, abused by adults, and is cut off from the community.
Furthermore, according to legal experts, when in an adult courtroom, children will not be fairly tried. Often in these cases, there is little balance of information as the prosecution is quick to treat the kids as adults throughout the entire trial. These young defendants do not possess the speaking skills or mental stamina to answer and keep track of the prosecution’s tricky questions. It is effortless to manipulate a child, which is clearly done in adult courts. Youngsters do not have the ability to keep track of evidence, witnesses, or the technical language used by the adult professionals. Numbers show that on a yearly basis, almost 200,000 minors (under 18) are thrown into the adult criminal courts. Unfortunately, it is a tampered trial to begin with and a completely unfair play of young lives (Cohen).
Moreover, when the minors complete sentence in adult courts, they cannot leave their past behind and start fresh. The vague childhood memories haunt them for the rest of their lives, affecting all attempts at leading a reformed and normal routine. Ryan states, “Well, there is a consequence. We call it perpetual punishment. You have a felony record that follows you the rest of your life.” Because of such records, young adults have difficulty becoming constructive members of society and earning their livelihood. Furthermore, from schooling to relationships, everything is affected negatively, with few people willing to provide the youngsters with a second chance. The label affectively gets sewn onto them, forcing them to retaliate and defend themselves with what society expects: more crime (Cohen).
It is imperative to realize that children mostly commit crimes because of their personal circumstances. Poverty, abuse, gangs in the neighborhood, and parent neglect are main causes of childhood crime. Lawmakers fail to notice that these factors are out of one’s control and the real victims here are the so-called juvenile delinquents. The key is to look for and focus on preventive and rehabilitation measures instead of eagerly placing minors in adult courts and jails. The ideal medicine to this disease is to focus on the situation which surrounded the child’s crime and not the act itself, which will target the problem at its root, providing insight on preventing similar issues from arising in the future (Steinberg).
Rehabilitating a culprit means that the focus in on helping the individual heal and prevent the crime from happening again. This takes many forms such as psychotherapy, counseling, and providing alternatives. During the rehabilitation process, the youngsters are provided with resources to better their circumstances in the world such as education and job training. Juveniles are young kids who are confused and have temporarily lost track of right and wrong because of lack of adult guidance and care. The focus should be on improvement and saving them, not mercilessly punishing them for something they might not even know was wrong. A healthy community works to unite all members, never leaving any man behind, let alone a child. Through rehabilitation, young offenders can be reassured that they can be accepted without unfair judgment; in fact, healthy societies worry about the dire circumstances which provoked a crime and focus on improving them and on prevention (Kumli).
In addition, rehabilitation covers a wide array of options for lawmakers in assigning punishments to juvenile delinquents. Not all children, teenagers or crimes are the same and the general adult punishments are not suitable for young offenders. Through rehabilitation, lawmakers can provide customized sentences or punishments for each case, ensuring positive results. Rehabilitation offers healthy alternatives to child offenders. According to Kurt Kumli, Deputy District Attorney for the Juvenile Division of the Santa Clara County's District, “We need to reach these kids with alternatives, with opportunities, before they start to feel (that) way” and he goes on to say that through rehabilitation, the success rates have been impressive: “You can modify behavior with respect to association, with respect to school attendance, with respect to alcohol and drug counseling. You can monitor behavior with respect to gang affiliation, search and seizure.”
Unfortunately, the present society at large seems to care less about rehabilitation, always steering the focus away to traditional adult lock up. The main reason behind these intentions is to find a quick and cost-effective method which will end the juvenile crime immediately. However, the long-term consequences of such actions are repeatedly ignored, allowing youngsters to unjustly be tried as adults and terminating their hopes for future progress. By doing this, lawmakers and leaders act foolishly since they are hurting and not grooming and investing in the generations that will lead them tomorrow. Kumli states,
You either have to be in favor of programs or incarceration that they are somehow mutually exclusive, that you either have to have back-end "lock them up" money or front-end prevention money, and that somehow the two of them can't be coalesced into some sort of a master plan. And I think it's largely political. It plays upon public fears.
Attempting to find common grounds between rehabilitation and punishment, some lawmakers and professionals suggest combined, customized plans. According to such thinkers, the trick is to mix punishment with recovery in ways that will be affective for the particular juvenile delinquent. According to Harry Shorstein, who is the State Attorney in Florida, the plan requires that the young offenders serve some time in prison, and then be switched to a correctional facility, where resources such as education and counseling will be available. Shorstein states, “I believe crime is like gymnastics. It really is a young person's sport. If you incapacitate a 15- or 16-year-old for a year, you can prevent more crime than if you imprison a 22-year-old for life” (Cohen).
Punishment for punishment’s sake is not the answer in an educated and advanced community and trying children and teenagers as adults goes against all humane and logical principles. Statistics prove that minors are physically and emotionally different from adults and should be treated as such. In fact, 30% of 11-13 years old and 19% of 14-15 years old juveniles performed at levels of mentally ill adults and were not suitable for being treated as adults (Steinberg). It is natural for children to make mistakes, which are often influenced by the adults in their lives. Therefore, the best option to decreasing juvenile delinquency is to try kids as kids and invest in their rehabilitation. The corrupt leaders and strayed lawmakers have substantially hurt the future generations by treating them as savage criminals, and it is due time to focus on improving these young lives in order to help secure our own futures.