Juvenile Justice: Can Juveniles be reformed or are extreme measures the only way we can deter crime? \
December 2, 2010
Juvenile Justice: Can Juveniles be Reformed or are Extreme Measures the only way Deter Crime?
The profound moral question is not, "Do they deserve to die?" but "Do we deserve to kill them?"-Helen Prejean (from his novel “Dead Man Walking) At least 281 children under age 18 have been executed in the United States since the 17th century (Prejean). To many this may not seem like a huge number, however there is a growing concern about whether or not juvenile capital punishment should be allowed. The subject of capital is already a touchy subject for most but when the idea of juveniles is included, the argument gets especially sensitive. Most countries do not permit it but the United States is one of the few. National laws, and international practice and opinion all work against the juvenile death penalty. It is hoped that U.S. policy in the future will be more in line with the Model Penal Code notion that “civilized societies will not tolerate the spectacle of the execution of children”. The main question is, is this working? Are juveniles old enough to commit a crime and receive the ultimate punishment or are their minds not mature enough to even legally imprison them because their personality is still forming.
The conflict of juvenile execution also ties in with trying young adults in juvenile courts. The same arguments are applied and many feel that too many minors are being sent to adult court. However the rebuttal is that minors sent to adult court only commit the most serious crimes and it is deserved. The debate goes on. How come life in prison doesn't mean life? Until it does, we're not ready to do away with the death penalty. Stop thinking in terms of "punishment" for a minute and think in terms of safeguarding innocent people from incorrigible murderers.- Jesse Ventura
Supporters of the death sentence for juvenile offenders argue that a minor who is mature enough to murder is mature enough to be punished. They believe a minor who can well think of the plan can handle the consequences. For example the case of 17 year old Christopher Simmons, a St. Louis resident who committed capital murder. Simmons and a 16 year old accomplice broke into an elderly woman’s home and bound up her legs and hands. Then the two threw her from a bridge into a river. Before committing the crime Simmons had spoken to his friends about committing the crime and felt that as a juvenile he could get away with it (Jost). He was tried as an adult and then sentenced to the death penalty. However after a law passed by the Supreme Court on March 7, 2005 that all juveniles facing death row that committed a crime under the age of 18 would be void and juvenile execution was deemed illegal. Simmons being 17 was right under the legal age to permit execution (Katel). Of course people were enraged at the fact that this young man being almost of consent would be almost excused from his heinous crime. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia commented “It is absurd to think that one must be mature enough to drive carefully, drink responsibly or to vote intelligently but not understand the most simple rule is that murdering is profoundly wrong”.
California Gov. Pete Wilson had suggested that 14-year-olds should be eligible for the death penalty. Wilson hopes to deter California gangs from using minors as gunmen. He claims that many crime organizations use underage members as trigger men, knowing that if they are caught they will dodge the death penalty (Sidebar). It is believed to be almost certain that putting a serious consequence on juvenile crimes will deter juvenile crimes and lower the crime rate. Those who support trying minors as adults say that the juvenile justice system currently is too merciful to act as a deterrent. Juvenile courts stress rehabilitation over punishment, supporters argue,...