CJUS 230. Professor Jennifer DeBoer
Should Children be Tried as Adults?
Juvenile Justice: Should children be tried as adults? Are youth capable of fully understanding the consequences that their actions may cause or are they mentally incapable of processing that information? Juveniles commit crimes just like adults. Sometimes the crimes they commit are heinous, but does that mean they are no longer a child? I believe there may be special cases when a youth should be tried as an adult, but in most cases, they need to be processed through the juvenile justice system. In the last part of the 18th century, children under the age of seven were regarded as being incapable of understanding their actions and their consequences. They were exempt from punishment. However, once a child reached the age of seven, they could be put on trial, and if found guilty, be sent to prison or even executed for their crimes. In 1825, the Society for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency was starting a movement that would separate juveniles from adult offenders. Most major cities soon had facilities that were exclusive for juvenile offenders. Unfortunately, by the mid-century, most of the private facilities were under investigation for various abuses against the juvenile inmates. Shortly thereafter, many states took on the responsibility of operating the juvenile facilities. In 1899, Cook County, Illinois established the first juvenile court with the passing of the Juvenile Court Act of 1899. The Act used the British Doctrine of “parens patriae” as the rationale of the state’s right to intervene in the lives of children. The doctrine was interpreted to mean that, because children were not of a legal capacity, the state had the inherit power and responsibility to provide protection for children whose natural parents were not providing appropriate care or supervision. The courts focused on the welfare of children, so delinquent children were seen as in need of the courts intervention. By 1910, thirty-two states had juvenile courts or probation services in operation. The courts were changing their focus from punishing youth to using treatment to help transform them into citizens that would be able to benefit their community. Over the next fifty years, juvenile courts had exclusive jurisdiction over all offenders under the age of eighteen. Children could only be tried as adults if the court waived its jurisdiction. All cases considered for transfer to an adult court were reviewed on a case-by-case basis with the consideration for the best interest of the youth and public. The juvenile court was much less formal than the adult court. Due process was deemed unnecessary, and attorneys for the state and for the youth were not an essential part of the system. Dispositions were tailored to meet the best needs of the youth. Treatments would last until the youth was “cured” or the youth turned twenty-one. Between 1950 and 1960, the juvenile court’s ability to successfully rehabilitate youth came into question. It was not the idea of the rehabilitation system that was being questioned; it was the amount of juveniles being held indefinitely by the facilities in which they were being treated. During the 1960’s, the Supreme Court required that all juvenile courts become more formal, mirroring the adult court system. Juveniles now had formal hearings, protection from self-incrimination, the ability to present witnesses, rights to receive notices against them, and the right to have an attorney. The Supreme Court did maintain that there were enough differences between the juvenile and adult court systems that a jury was not required for the juvenile justice process. In 1968, congress passed the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act of 1968 which recommended that youth who have been charged with non-criminal offenses are to be handled outside of the court...
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