Juveniles Should NOT be Tried as Adults

Here’s why.
1. It is wrong to hold children and adolescents who have not reached the legal age for adult standards.  In other areas of law, we recognize the differences between children and adults.  Children are not permitted the same rights and responsibilities as adults (e.g. voting, smoking, joining the military) because we recognize their inability to make adult decisions. Why don’t we recognize the same difference in the criminal law?  We don’t say, “this is a very important election, so let’s let the kids vote“.  We don’t say, “this is a very important war so let’s give our children weapons and send them to fight“.  So why do we say “this case is different and this kid deserves to be treated as an adult and locked away in a prison“?  
2. Recent research demonstrates that transferring children from juvenile court to adult court does not decrease recidivism, and in fact actually increases crime. Children are uniquely positioned for reform and redemption.  Juvenile detention facilities (generally) have the programs in place to aid in that process of reformation.  Prisons do not. 
3. With appropriate treatment, most children who commit crimes, even the most violent crimes, can be rehabilitated and become responsible adults.  Precisely because their brains are still changing.  The prefrontal cortex – which regulates aggression, long-range planning, mental flexibility, abstract thinking, and perhaps moral judgment has not yet developed in children.  The amygdala, the center of impulsive and aggressive behavior is the centerpiece of the child’s brain and is left unchecked by the underdeveloped prefrontal cortex.   

4. Psychological research confirms what every parent knows: children, including teenagers, act more irrationally and immaturely than adults.  Studies further confirm that stressful situations only heighten the risk that emotion, rather than rational thought, will guide the choices children make.  The Supreme Court just recognized this! 

In Roper v. Simmons, Justice Kennedy wrote:  “any parent knows” and “scientific and sociological studies … tend to confirm “that children possess a “lack of maturity” .. an underdeveloped sense of responsibility .. [and take] impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions.”

5. Children in adult prisons are 5 times as likely to be sexually assaulted, twice as likely to be beaten by staff, 50 percent more likely to be attacked with a weapon and 8 times as likely to commit suicide as children in juvenile facilities.
6. Punishment is a failed a strategy for changing behavior, teaching new skills, or developing new and more positive attitudes and beliefs. The only justification for inflicting harsh punishment is to deliver vengeance in accord with the old testament standard of an eye-for-an-eye. We should be protecting, not taking out vengeance, on our children. 
7. Contrary to popular belief, it is the child and not his or her parent or guardian who must decide what to tell the police and defense attorneys, whether or not to follow attorney instructions, whether to testify, whether to give information to the prosecution, and whether to go to trial or accept a plea bargain.  Although common sense would suggest that many children are simply too young to undertake such weighty legal responsibilities, it is rare for courts to consider whether children lack the competence to stand trial because of their age.  Every child offender should have a competency hearing before trial.  
8. “Adult time for adult crime” may be a catchy phrase but it reflects a poor understanding of criminal justice principles. If the punishment is to fit the crime, both the nature of the offense and the culpability or moral responsibility of the offender must be taken into account.
9. Youth tried in the adult criminal court face the same penalties as adults including life without parole which for child offenders puts them last in line to receive any classes or rehabilitation programs and makes it very difficult to file for clemency for failure to prove any sort of rehabilitation.
10. Statistics show a plethora of impact issues have been fueled by blended sentencing laws, including unintended consequences such as giving prosecutors, rather than judges, the authority to decide when to charge a juvenile as an adult. Policy analysts have begun questioning whether states have gone too far in enacting legislation that makes it easier to prosecute juveniles as adults.
“Children who commit serious crimes still have the ability to change their lives for the better. It is now
time for state and federal officials to take positive steps by enacting policies that seek to redeem children, instead  of throwing them in prison for the rest of their lives.” 
                                                                               –  David Berger

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