There is this perception in our society that those under 18 are under some type of legal protection or exemption. I used to think that if a teenager was tried as an adult then they would be susceptible to an unfair trial and that being sentenced as a juvenile was far better. I certainly do not agree with many ways that our U.S. justice system operates. I strongly believe that young people’s age should be a factor in understanding their motivation and capabilities. Therefore, charging a 16-year-old as an adult seems to be incredibly unjust. However still, juveniles are not awarded many of the same rights as adults and therefore may be getting a fairer trial but certainly not a fairer sentence. It is incredibly unreasonable to hold children to adult expectations; therefore, the juvenile justice system needs to be structured in a way that considers their age, allows them a fair trial and sentence. While also providing consistent and rehabilitative discipline that allows them to succeed as an adult.
Juvenile hearings are quite different than adult hearings, the Juvenile Law Center notes that “juvenile court hearings are often closed to members of the public and records are often confidential…however, despite what many people believe, juvenile records in most jurisdictions are not automatically sealed or expunged” (Juvenile Law Center, 2018). A juvenile record may follow an individual around throughout their life, making it difficult to be successful as an adult. Juveniles are not given the same rights as adults, thus having less protection when being accused or convicted and highly susceptible to manipulation. Furthermore, children are sentenced and tried by a judge, not a jury, which makes them highly vulnerable to discrimination. While also being subject to the judge’s personal opinions of the significance of the crime.
Remember the “kids for cash” scandal in Pennsylvania a few years back? This is a prime example of how the juvenile justice system is vulnerable to manipulation. Judges were found guilty of receiving a monetary commission for sentencing minors to juvenile detention centers (NPR, 2014). Judge Ciavarella took advantage of a system that allowed him to benefit from selling kid’s lives to juvenile detention centers for a profit (NPR, 2014). The juvenile system should not have space for Judge’s to have so much influence in one person’s life. Some of the children in the juvenile justice system lose years from their life based from one person’s sentence. This is different than the Adult justice system where adults are tried in front of a jury.
The article, Mandatory Minimums, Maximum Consequences discusses how federal law is reviving the “tough on crime approach” with juveniles (Steiner, 2017). This requires juveniles to be automatically tried as adults for certain crimes, therefore giving them an adult sentence. Therefore many have spent most, if not all their lives in jail for crimes they committed as teenagers. Steiner notes that a situation where Washington teens faced up to 45 years for stealing candy and cell phones while having a firearm on them (Steiner, 2017). Crimes committed by juveniles certainly need to be addressed and some situations may have more severe consequences on society. However, children should not be held to the same expectations as adults, because they are not mentally mature enough to understand the full consequences of their actions.
There are certainly issues with the juvenile justice system that we could discuss endlessly. The adult justice system in America is certainly no model to strive for. Though, suggesting that juveniles be treated to the same extent and with the same expectations as adults is unreasonable. Duplicating the adult justice system with juveniles, while also giving them less rights and protections is also highly problematic. I am simply suggesting that the juvenile justice system enact changes that truly reflect the child’s needs and ensure fair and ethical discipline. Instead of trying to transfer kids to the adult system or disregard their rights to fair trials and appropriate sentencing.
Juvenile Law Center (2018). Youth in the Justice System: An Overview. Retrieved from: http://jlc.org/news-room/media-resources/youth-justice-system-overview
NPR Staff (2014). ‘Kids For Cash’ Captures A Juvenile Justice Scandal From Two Sides. NPR. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/2014/03/08/287286626/kids-for-cash-captures-a-juvenile-justice-scandal-from-two-sides
Steiner, Emily (2017). Mandatory Minimums, Maximum Consequences. Juvenile Law Center. Retrieved from: http://jlc.org/blog/mandatory-minimums-maximum-consequences