Once an Adult, Always an Adult

Topics: Crime, Criminology, Prison Pages: 6 (1872 words) Published: January 23, 2011
Prison is an institution that society creates to confine people convicted of breaking the law. It is designed to be an institution that deters people from committing crimes, punishes and rehabilitates criminals, and protects the public by keeping dangerous offenders off the streets. It is important to study this social organization to gauge whether the manner in which society deals with criminality via prison is effective. In light of the evidence, it appears that the objectives of imprisonment do not match their desired effects. Prison has an economic basis and punishes crimes that are often committed by the poor. In many respects, the real criminality is committed by society, which criminalizes the poor by not allowing them the opportunity toward self-empowerment. Moreover, prison subtly supports established institutions, because by focusing on individual wrongs, it takes away attention from the inequity in social institutions. The issue of incarcerating juveniles with adults is a controversial one for the criminal justice system in the United States. Trying youths as adults opened the door to imposing the punishment of life without possibility of parole in penitentiary for adults in 42 states - 27 of which have mandatory sentencing policies that do not allow any judicial discretion. Many states have a minimum age at which this sentence can be given (for example, ages range from 12 years in Colorado to 16 in California), however in 14 states, there is no minimum age at which juveniles can be tried as adults and sent to prison for natural life Michigan is one of them. Although the great majority of the American public views juvenile crime as a serious problem, and supports strong punishment for violent crimes, a substantial portion of the public believes in less harsh treatment for first-time offenders. Moreover, polls in several states indicate that large majorities support prevention programs and early intervention efforts, and support restorative justice programs over prison time for non-violent youthful offenders because they are not comfortable with incarcerating juveniles with adults. It is sadly unsurprising that in today's youth justice system, male individuals from ethnic minorities receive the harshest punishment, and are often seen as impossible to rehabilitate, or undeserving of the second or third chances that other demographic groups of troubled youth receive. Under the law, all young people between the ages of 8 and 17 or 18 are equally deserving of rehabilitative efforts, and are equally capable of a law-abiding adulthood. Unfortunately, the subjectivity inherent in the justice system renders this equality null and void, dealing out harsh sentences for older teenagers even when they are first-time offenders. The current juvenile justice process may be unconstitutional, and it definitely does not reduce crime or enhance public safety.

Should teenagers be incarcerated with adults? The laws allowing so many children to be tried as adults and sent to prison need to be repealed. We need to follow the examples of progressive states like Minnesota and New Mexico and return decisions about juvenile jurisdiction to the judiciary, based on the overwhelming scientific evidence. Most importantly, the legal profession needs to overcome its fear of scientific data and base policy on facts, not anecdotal babblings. But what does the evidence show? The laws were passed without any scientific evidence, at times when statistics clearly showed a reduction in juvenile crime, including violent crime. The laws were knee-jerk reactions passed by grandstanding lawmakers in response to a very few violent tourist or school shootings, in total disregard to the evidence showing that these get-tough changes were counterproductive to protecting the public safety. The evidence also shows higher recidivism with advanced criminal behavior, children subjected to regular sexual and physical abuse and a higher rate of suicides. These...
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