Should Juveniles Be Treated as Adults?

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Joseph Tesmond
Justice and the Law paper
Spring 2010
Should Juveniles Be Tried As Adults?
In today’s society, there is a national debate about what to do with juveniles in the criminal justice system.  This debate is a result changes in practice throughout United States.  The United States made it possible to try juveniles as adults in court after the case of Kent vs. the United States in 1966. The change in legislation is relatively new due to the fact that juvenile courts have "for most of the past century, treated youngsters between 7 and 17 not as criminals but as delinquents." The United States choose to treat the kids as delinquents because there was a major focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment. According to an article by Paul McCormick, over the past decade, "legislators in 47 states and the District of Columbia have made it easier to put on trial and punish juveniles as adults." The change was brought about because of a rise in juvenile delinquency during the 1970s and 1980s. The high rise in juvenile violence brought about increasing public pressure and a demand for change. The United States dramatically shifted the way they deal with crimes committed by juveniles.  Up until the early 19th century, Juveniles were tried in the same courts as every other offender. This changed because of the rise juvenile violence. According to Steinberg, “The 1980s witnessed an increasingly desperate outcry for courts to take more extreme measures to contain juvenile crime, which is assuming ever more serious forms.” This outcry was due to the rise in juvenile court dockets that became increasingly filled with criminal cases in the 1970s and 1980s. This outcry resulted in a change in juvenile treatment. According to the International Herald Tribune, "Between 1985 and 1997 the number of minors admitted to state prisons more than doubled, climbing from 3,400 to 7,400" and in 1998, "adult correctional facilities held more than 11,000 juveniles." This article provides evidence of juvenile courts treating youngsters as adults. This differs from past method due to the fact that punishment is used at a higher rate than it used to be. Legislators in almost every state responded to a spike in violent juvenile crime rates, and began to change the juvenile justice system. These reforms made it easier to put juveniles on trial as adults, and send them to adult jails or prisons. State and federal lawmakers made a number of changes in the juvenile justice system at this time which included: "expanding judicial waivers, giving prosecutors new or expanded authority to file charges against minors in criminal court, passed legislation excluding certain offenses from juvenile courts, and some states even lowered the age at which all juveniles must be sent to adult court." These are not the only changes that were made to the system. They also introduced blended sentences, which meant that juvenile offenders could finish the last years or decades of their term in adult prisons. In addition, the United States justice system demanded mandatory minimum sentences for a variety of juvenile offenses. These changes in legislation were due to an increase in juvenile violent crimes that began in the 1980s; however, the juvenile crime rate decreased shortly after this period. The legislators already made the changes. Consequently, the vast majority of states now allow 14-year-olds to be tried as adults. Today, "Fifteen states explicitly permit this practice for children as young as 13, 12, or 10. And more than half the states have one offense for which juveniles of any age can be charged as adults. At the same time, 38 states house juveniles in the general population in adult prisons or jails." These harsh changes in the juvenile justice system are often seen in the media as suitable because of negative media coverage that is displayed to the citizens of our country, such as school shootings. This media coverage has resulted...
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