Should Juveniles Be Tried as Adults
A group of burglars enter a house to ransack it, only to discover an old lady and her son inside. In their insane fury, they shoot the son to death in front of the mother and stab the lady. Gruesome? Pathological? Heartless? How would you feel if you knew that the ages of the perpetrators were between 17-19. People who should have been studying ended up serving sentences from death penalty to life sentences. These are juveniles committing crimes hitherto considered to be adult in nature. Why should juveniles not be punished in accordance with the severity of their crimes, in an adult court?
What are the statistics of juvenile crimes and convictions?
Worldwide this issue has been raging as juveniles have been implicated in many serious and vicious crimes including murder and rape. In America, nearly 10000 offenders under the age of 18 are serving sentences for various crimes, out of which, many are serving life terms without any hope of parole.
What happens in a juvenile court during proceedings against juveniles? When are juveniles tried as adults?
Juvenile offenders may be directly tracked down by police or may be referred to police by others. Either ways, there are steps involved in directing proceedings against juveniles. These include :
1. A warning being issued first, following detention of the minor, followed by release
2. The minor may be held till the arrival of a guardian and then released to their custody
3. The minor may be sent to the juvenile court custody.
While most juvenile cases may be dealt with in juvenile courts, under certain circumstances, the presiding judge can waive the protection conferred by a juvenile court on the juvenile. In such cases, the cases are then heard in the adult court. This usually happens when the seriousness of the crime is far beyond the limits of that which is accepted by juvenile courts, or when the juveniles are repeat and recalcitrant offenders.
The minimum criteria are as follows for waivers: The offender must be minimum of usually 16 years (and even younger, depeding on the seriousness of the crime such as murder and battery) and trends point towards more in favour of reducing the age of juvenile offender as the number and viciousness of crimes seem to be increasing. The crime should be particularly heinous and the offender has shown consistency in offensive behaviour and has been charged many times previous to the current one and has not yielded to efforts for reform and change, Counseling and corrective efforts have failed.
Either the prosecutor or the judge involved can request for such waiver petitions. On successful petitioning, the juvenile will be treated as an adult offender and will undergo arraignment in the court. Judges will have to take a decision on these petitions based on whether there is any reasonable chance that the juvenile may reform through the existing juvenile court procedures and whether all other ways have failed and if the juvenile seems to be hardened beyond the reform offered in juvenile court mediated processes.
The adult court jurisdiction will provide some protections too (such as) but will also ensure that the weightage of punishment is more severe as well as serving the sentence would be in an adult jail or reform facility.
Not only that, these records would be permanently there on the record of the offender. While deserved, some have the concern that serving sentences in adult jails could be deleterious to the mind and health of juveniles, who may go beyond a stage of no return.
Yes, it is very distressing to think of youngsters as young as 15 years, spending their lives, cooped up in the cold environments of the jail, with no hope of release, no hope of redemption, no dreams and happiness to look forward to. But one may ask, isn’t that what they deserved? Did not they deserve the justified punishment for the crimes they committed, with full awareness? Did not they, by means of their unthinking actions cause irreparable sorrow and misery, to those whose only fault was being a victim? Then why should they have the benefit of being tried in a juvenile court, and having to pay less as compared to adults who commit crimes of equal severity? Does not that seem like they are getting away with many things? Does not the law seem to be unequal and unfair, especially in light of the suffering of the victims?
Use Discretion When Deciding How To Punish Juveniles
Yes, juveniles should be punished for their crimes and especially if those crimes are of a heinous and unforgivable nature especially like murder, rape. But unlike adults and unless, it is a known case of medical sociopathy, however, the law and us, as human beings have to look at their age first. Unfortunately, teenagers are exactly at that point in life, where they are experiencing hormonal changes, body growth, psychological changes and are very susceptible to influences which may have a totally devastating and negative influence on them.
Many of these crimes are committed due to peer group influence, to be wanted and cared for by their peers, even to the extent of taking part, even unwillingly in such activities which are deadly and dangerous. Research and experts say, that even while committing the crime, their mental development is not that developed that they know of the consequences or are able to exercise self control to prevent themselves. Further, as they are still growing, there exists a high probability of remorse, understanding and accepting the consequences of their action and willing to take the responsibility, provided we are ready to be there to accept them.
The chances for this would be very less in an adult jail where they are exposed to hardened criminals. In fact, some research has shown that teenage violators, who are sentenced to adult jail, show increased tendencies for committing offenses. Rather, evidence is there that juveniles need specialised psychological treatment and care which may bring them back to the right path. Of course, for those who are irreparably hardened or suffering from psychological disorders, the only choice for them may be to bar them, the world forever. But for those, who are malleable and willing to change, sending them to adult jails would only kill their chances of rehabilitation.