University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Juveniles Tried as Adults
In the United States, anyone who is charged for committing a crime before the day of their 18th birthday is considered a juvenile and depending on the severity of the case shall be tried as a juvenile. There are some cases; however, where the juvenile justice system should be harder on the juvenile, but in most cases they should not go to an adult prison. There are most certainly some cases in which the juvenile should face the adult justice system, but for petty instances, a juvenile court will suffice. I find it hard to agree that a juvenile convicted for crimes dealing with drugs, alcohol, traffic violations, etc. should be tried in an adult court to receive punishment; however, I do believe that someone who commits rape, murder, kidnapping, or any other major crimes of the sort should be taken to an adult court. “Old enough to do the crime, old enough to do the time,” is a quote I remember hearing as I was growing up, but I was not taught that it applied to small or minor crimes, but often serious ones involving the harming of another individual. Placing juveniles in adult prisons can cause them to be put in danger, when in reality many of them can be “fixed” through the juvenile justice system. Juvenile offenders sometimes commit crimes that are equal to or of higher quality than those of adults; however, punishing them as adults in adult prisons will do no justice; they are less competent to stand trial, adult prisons can harm them mentally, physically, and emotionally, and they more often than not choose the actions they do because of someone who is of influence to them.
Juvenile offenders are often less competent than adults to stand trial making it ineffective to sentence them as if they were adults. Juvenile offenders are classified as “childish, infantile, and young,” according to dictionary.com. “Some studies have examined the understanding that youths’ have on trial procedures and the overall basic knowledge of trials” (Grisso et al). During these studies they found that there was no compassion to the basic knowledge of trials and trial procedures to that of adults. One study conducted showed that 55% of the juveniles they interviewed could not accurately describe what the Miranda laws meant when read to them except the section that says, “you have the right to remain silent,” according to the National Center of Juvenile Justice.
The National Center of Juvenile Justice also stated that, “juveniles from the ages of 11-15 are very incompetent and that 16-24 year olds have similar levels of competence.” The juveniles who are younger, or in the 11-15 range, are less likely to understand the risks and consequences of the adult justice system, and therefore may not benefit from it. They also possess weaker decision-making skills. Since they lack decision-making skills, they are more likely to make poor decisions when committing crimes, but also when agreeing to sentencing or plea agreements, leading them to an unfair trial because of the unfair advantages that justice system would have over them. Adult prisons are very harmful to one’s mental, physical, and emotional capabilities especially when they are juvenile. Being placed in an adult prison can make them susceptible to sexual harassment, physical harassment, and psychological harassment from other inmates. They could also face longer, rougher sentences than they would have if they would have stayed in the juvenile system. A study that was done on 946 juveniles found that 87% of them faced longer sentences than they would have if they had stayed in a juvenile justice system, according to Mulvey and Schubert. In 2005, 21% of all inmates that were sexually victimized by another inmate were under the age of 18, states Mulvey and Schubert.
The risk of a juvenile being physically abused in an adult prison is much higher than that of an adult in the same system because juveniles are “easier” targets and less likely to create a struggle. “Doing the time for doing the crime might be seen as fair, but doing much worse time because the crime was done while an adolescent seems to tip the balance beyond even-handed justice” (Mulvey et al 846). Adult prisons also have a different effect on juveniles than they do on adults when it comes to their development; since juveniles are receiving the punishment they are at a younger age it can cause problems for them in the future. According to Mulvey and Schubert, “Adolescents in the adult system may be at risk for disruptions in their personal development, identity formation, relationships, learning, growth in skills and competencies, and positive movement into adult status.” Identity formation is just one of the aspects in which their development can be affected. Identity formation is when you find out who you are as a person, this is often discovered through learning from your parents, friends, peers, etc., but when you are placed in a facility like an adult prison you are surrounded by people who have all committed a crime and are bad influences to you and cause you to create your true self around that type of behavior.
Juveniles in the adult systems also lose great opportunities such as their ability to learn about all aspects of life and the responsibilities and goals they should have. They are instead learning about the inside of a prison, jail, etc. Being in these facilities causes juveniles to miss out on learning the responsibility of a job, school, family, values, goals, finding qualities in someone that could be a potential spouse, making new friends who could be positive influences, and a. All of these statistics prove that adult prisons are very harmful to juveniles, especially mentally, physically, and emotionally. It is also often found that juveniles will make the choices they do based upon the choices they watched their close peers make or just the types of people they are surrounded by in general which shows that they are immature and very easily influenced. It is hard to prove that most, or all, of juveniles have a full understanding of the justice system and the courts, making it difficult to believe that they should be tried as adults in this system. Many juveniles have the ability to change their behavior through the programs that we have specifically for them not through adult prisons. A child who comes from a broken home, or a home without both parents, a family that is part of the lower class, or from a family that is rather large in size have been found to be the majority of juveniles facing time in juvenile or adult systems.
Families who are large in size and of a lower class often find that the children are more likely to grow up without any values or goals because they are often left home alone or there is at least less supervision over each individual child, therefore causing them to be hurt and sometimes wanting to inflict pain upon someone or something in hopes to make themselves feel better. “Family relationships, duties, responsibilities and privileges, and the amount of control exercised over children all play roles in forming character and influencing behavior. The attitudes and actions of parents can create an important influence in the lives of children. Families in crisis will most likely affect the behavior of juveniles. If one member of a family becomes sick, schizophrenic, or alcoholic, a child may react based on the family’s structural problems,” according to Joseph Wickliffe. Families who contain an unstable parent(s) can create a child that is more likely to be disobedient, especially if the way the rules are portrayed is too aggressive, too passive, or just unclear. According to a study that Joseph Wickliffe talks about, “It was discovered that 4.1 percent of fathers were found to use sound discipline practices; 26.7 percent, fair; and 69.3 percent, unsound. Sound – consistent and firm control but not so strict as to arouse fear and antagonism, fair – control which is indefinite: sometimes strict, sometimes lax, and unsound – extremely lax or extremely rigid control by the parents, which, on the one hand, gives unrestrained freedom of action and, on the other hand, restricts to the point of rebellion.” Juveniles are also prone to make decisions based off of what the people with authority want, for instance, they are more likely to confess or accept a plea agreement if their lawyer is telling them that they should do so. After learning of all of the negative consequences that come with placing a juvenile in the adult courts and/or prisons, I have concluded that for most cases a juvenile should be processed through the juvenile system and take the punishment given there.