Psychoanalysts have different theories and opinions. It does not matter if one looks at the theories of Jean Piaget or Erik Erickson, it is agreed that there are different levels of growth and development as a person ages. One does not reach full physiological and psychological maturity until adulthood. During the adolescent or juvenile stage of development, the brain and body continue to grow and mature. The brain is still developing and a person can still develop the cognitions to learn between right and wrong (Feldman, 2011). Trying these young offenders as adults and subjecting them to the way of the criminals they will come in contact with in adult prisons, supplies them with a society that will teach them skills needed to survive in a criminal world. If they are held in juvenile detention centers and provided the rehabilitation that is offered to them at that level, they have a better chance of learning right from wrong, repaying a debt to society for crimes committed, and becoming a productive member of society.
When a juvenile offenders commits an offense there are different guidelines that each state must follow when deciding to try as a juvenile or an adult. Depending on where the responsibility for the decision lies these guidelines will fall under one of three categories; judicial waiver, statutory exclusion, or concurrent jurisdiction (PBS, 2012).
Judicial waiver means the juvenile court judge has the authority to send the case to criminal court rather than have it tried in the juvenile court system. This process is also knows as certification, remand, or bind over for criminal prosecution (Griffin, Addie, Adams, & Firestine, 2011).
Statutory exclusion means that a case starts out in criminal court rather than juvenile court. The juvenile court system is bypassed completely even though the offender is a juvenile. This is also known as legislative exclusion (Griffin, Addie, Adams, & Firestine, 2011).
Concurrent jurisdiction means that both systems work together and the prosecutor decides which avenue is the appropriate avenue for prosecution. This is also known as prosecutorial waiver, prosecutor discretion, or direct file (Griffin, Addie, Adams, & Firestine, 2011).
Laws started changing the way juveniles are handled in the 1980s and 1990s. For example, in Massachusetts, in 1990, Governor Dukakis signed a law into effect that stated that instead of the burden being placed on the court system to decide if a juvenile was to be tried as an adult, the burden of proof now was shifted to the juvenile to prove why they should not be tried as an adult (Kingsbury, 1990).
The purpose of trying juveniles as adults is to impose harsher sentences in hopes that the fear of the harsher sentences will make juveniles think twice about committing the crimes but studies are showing that this is really not what is happening (PBS, 2012).
Guidelines that govern the justice systems came into play in 1974 when the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act were enacted. Since its origination there have been many attempts, successful and not, to amend it. It sets standards for state and local juvenile justice systems, provides direct funding for states, research, training and technical assistance, and evaluations. It was put in place to protect youth (Center for Children’s Law and Policy).
States that have no minimum age requirement to be tried as an adult are Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin (PBS, 2012).
States that have a minimum age of 10 are Kansas and Vermont (PBS, 2012).
States that have a minimum age of 12 are Colorado, Missouri, and Montana (PBS, 2012).
States that have a minimum age of 13 are Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, and Wyoming (PBS, 2012).
States that have a minimum age of 14 are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas, Utah and Virginia (PBS, 2012).
The one state that has a minimum age of 15 is New Mexico (PBS, 2012).
One side of the argument is that juvenile offenders that are tried as adults, do not receive the rehabilitation that might help them and they only learn more from the criminals they are housed with and are returned to society as even worse offenders. Treating children as adults and not trying to teach them to become more responsible adults, society is not allowing them to learn from mistakes that are being made as a child.
The other side of the argument is that by treating them as children and not subjecting them to harsher punishments, society is teaching them it is ok to commit the crimes and that they will not be held responsible at the same standards an adult would. There is hope that the fear of a harsher sentence would make a juvenile think twice about his actions and consider the harsher consequences.
Over time, multiple studies have shown that there is little or no decrease in crime when juveniles are tried as adults and often show that the number of repeat offenses is higher in those, whose cases were tried in adult criminal court.
A Florida study looked at reoccurring or repeat offenders among 2,738 juvenile offenders. It compared juveniles who had been processed in criminal court for mid-range offenses such as auto theft, assault, and robbery with a matched group of offenders that had remained in the juvenile system. To ensure and even match, they were matched in terms of offense, number of charges, prior record, race, sex, and age (University, 2007, p. 21). Short term study results showed that juveniles who went through the adult system were rearrested more quickly, were more likely to be rearrested, and were arrested more often for a more serious felony offense than those that remained in the juvenile system (University, 2007, p. 21).
Two studies were completed comparing 16 and 17 year old offenders in New York City, who were processed in the adult criminal system as opposed to 16 and 17 year old offenders in New Jersey who remain in the juvenile system. The first study in the early 1980 compared 400 offenders who had committed first degree burglary and 400 first and second degree burglary offenders. Those juveniles that were put through the adult criminal system in New York were found to have higher rearrest rates, higher rates of reincarceration and shorter times between being rearrested (University, 2007, p. 22). The second study was completed in the early 1990s in the same locations using over 2000 juveniles that faced charges of robbery, burglary and assault. Again the results showed higher rearrest rate for violent crimes and a higher rearrest rate for felony property crimes (University, 2007, p. 22). In this last study there was one difference. Juveniles that were prosecuted in juvenile court for drug offenses were more likely to be arrested for drug offenses than those processed in the adult criminal courts.
On a larger scale, in 2006 a study was done comparing monthly violent arrest rates for 5 years prior to and after the laws were enacted to try the juveniles as adults. The study did not show a reduction in the overall rate of violent crime after the enactment of the laws. In 20 of 22 states there was no decline in arrest rates following the enactment of the laws. The state of Maine showed an overall decline for violent crimes and Wisconsin showed a temporary decline (University, 2007).
Another study found that mixing juvenile offenders with more serious offenders in adult prison worsened the serious of their offenses as well as the length of their criminal careers (University, 2007).
As the majority of studies show, prosecuting juveniles as adults is not a deterrent for crime. It only gives them knowledge and the skills to become more adept at the crimes. To understand the reasoning for this, one would need to look at the brain and the learning patterns of the human race. Most states have minimum age requirements for an adolescent to be tried as an adult, as stated above these ages vary from 10 to 15. During these years, the adolescent is still maturing and learning from the environment around them which can help shape the person they are to become. A person does not fully mature until they reach adulthood (Feldman, 2011).
Society has two choices. A juvenile can be incarcerated and handled in the juvenile system, that is set up to help them learn from their actions and rehabilitate them to becoming a functioning productive member of society or they can be processed through the adult system; where they can learn from other criminals how to better their skills as a criminal and not receive any chance of rehabilitation. They will then be returned to society to practice what they have learned during incarceration.
There are instances that should be reserved to be handled only in the adult judicial system. The crime of murder should be punishable as an adult because of the severity of deliberately taking another personââ‚¬â„¢s life. A person that is capable of deliberately taking another life, regardless of age is not capable of rehabilitation. There are cases of self-defense and accidents that would not be considered deliberately taking a life and should receive case by case consideration. Another case that should be tried as an adult is a case involving deliberate physical assault or injury. Again, if they are to the point they can deliberately cause physical harm and injury to another, they are most likely past rehabilitation and need to be handled as such.
Take into consideration a young male or female that has never been arrested or even so much as received a parking ticket, this adolescent ends up at the wrong personââ‚¬â„¢s house and there is a party. Succumbing to peer pressure, this honor roll student drinks a few too many beers and rides along with a group of kids that have a criminal past and they break into a closed business. They are apprehended and all are taken through the adult court system. This previous honor roll student now has a felony record and cannot get the job they had in their future plans, they cannot register to vote, they cannot possess a gun and go hunting during hunting season and this is all due one bad mistake that happened one night; throwing away a life time of outstanding achievements. Should this juvenile be held to the same standards as a full grown adult that held a gun to an innocent victim and pulled the trigger?
Is this plan foolproof and when does society need to change the rules? Society needs to uphold the same rules for juveniles as it does adults, just on different levels. Most states have a rule for repeat offenders known as 3 strikes youââ‚¬â„¢re out. Three times of repeating and they serve a life sentence. Juveniles should be held to the same standards. If they are processed through the juvenile system and repeat offenses three times, then they should be moved up the ladder and processed through the adult judicial system.