Juveniles Should Not Be Tried As Adults


Thesis: In recent times, the growing number of incidents has led the policy-makers and elders of the nation to rethink the law-making policy for the juveniles of the country. Available literature and statistics show that in the year 1990 more than two million juvenile apprehensions were directly filed in criminal courts; whereas, as soaring as 2,00,000 juvenile cases were processed in adult courts (Hunzeker A14).

Some recent events like brutal violence by juveniles have authorities treat them as adults so that severe punishment can be imposed upon these and prospective juveniles. There are some who strongly favor the decision of treating the juveniles as adults because of the severity of punishment which will cause a better social outlook to evolve due to the fact that such juveniles would learn a lesson. However, there are still so many others who see treating juveniles as adults as no more than a fatal mistake on the face of the country which is going to bring futile consequences for the entire nation in the long run. Both these sides have their arguments supported by reasons.

The present paper carefully examines the theme of whether or not juveniles should be tried as adults in courts and other judicial processes. At the end of the paper, the present writer gives a personal opinion to justify the motion in light of the argument carried through the paper.

Juveniles and Change in Treatment

According to Klein (1998), more and more citizens are becoming concerned with the increasing juvenile delinquencies which were previously considered as “inner-city” problems. However, the solution to lock more and more juveniles in court for an as long time as possible has not been an effective strategy to cure the wound of society. According to the author, this type of policy (a quick-fix according to Klein) is a “two-edged” sword that is to hamper justice in two ways. One is that it distracts justices from punishing the real culprit. Two, it brings a child to a forever doomed state which kills all the possibilities to treat the child into a sensible citizen.

According to the author, the solution is treating juveniles in the juvenile courts since it is the best option. However, here the author points to a weak area that juvenile courts have turned their focus of concern which needs to be taken into serious consideration. Previously, the juvenile courts carried an individualized treatment for juveniles which was put to bring results with regard to the inner change in the child. However, this practice has changed now into, as notes Klein, “generalized concerns for public safety and accountability in juvenile offenders” (317). This is because of the general opinion about the juvenile court that it coddles the child rather than teach a lesson. Henceforth, “numerous commentators have called for the complete abolition of the juvenile court system” (317).

As such, the treatment is not to treat juveniles as adults but to give them a chance to grow into more dynamic citizens who can fairly contribute to the good of the country. Much of the fear, according to the author, created in the general public is by the colorful media coverage and gingling sound-bites which the print and electronic media use for cheap publicity. The real solution is in understanding and treating the psychological problems in the juveniles and not merely treat them as adults and think that justice is done because according to Klein “We know from psychology that there are causes and cures for delinquent behavior” (317).

Treating Juveniles as Adults

It has become a common maxim in the judiciary register that “You do the adult crime, you do the adult time” (No Author, 2000). This simply is to make sure that it will diminish the chances for more crimes by an adult which is not the case in reality.

There are complex problems in this regard. For instance, according to Pagnanelli (175), people think that because a child has the same legal right to a number of decisions as the adults do, they should be treated as adults in court: a “fatal misconception” according to the author to which I completely agree. The important point to make here is that a juvenile standing in a trial is not in the same situation as making some adult decision outside the court. All that is needed is to see the child as a juvenile in the court because “The experience of childhood is necessary to socialize juveniles” (Pagnanelli A175).

Thus the treatment should focus on psychological and social nourishment rather than merely throwing away a juvenile to probably hamper their future growth chances completely. As such, instead of treating the juveniles as adults, they should be taken as people with psychological and social problems which can be best treated in juvenile courts and not in adult courts.

Additionally, there are a great many ways by which law policy can be shaped to decrease juvenile treatment as adults. For instance, according to Pagnanelli (175), one very effective policy is not to lower the technical age of a child “rather it should be maintained or increased” so that more time be given to the treatment of a child. The specific points in this connection can be as follows:

Youths are immature and lack a sense of responsibility.

Youths are “more vulnerable and susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure” so it is better to treat them as patients rather than adults culprits (Pagnanelli A175).

Their characters are just being formed so they need special care for character building and not strict punishment which mars their characters.

The author concludes with a remarkable observation that because of mishandling of the juvenile issue, the treatment of a child as an adult has “has proven to be an ineffective means of punishing juvenile offenders and protecting society” (Pagnanelli A175). Thus there is a need for better programs that aim at the rehabilitation of the youth rather than hampering their psychological, social, and moral growth for no obvious reason but that they commit a crime and/or are near the age of an adult or that they have a right to make some of the adult decisions.

Psychological; Cognitive Different among Youths and Adults

Henceforth, it is to be mentioned here that treating juveniles as adults hurling them to adult courts, and sentencing harsh punishment as capital punishments and the like is not the solution of the problem: that exposure to violence is increasing among the youths.

What is needed first hand in the system is to re-examine all the juvenile custody systems and address the issues where there is some weak point. For example, treating an adolescent more like an adult is not a healthy practice because both “adolescents and adults as being quite different”. The reason to treat them differently is, therefore, obvious: one which should not skip our sincere policy-makers. Mayers (qtd. in Jett A96) notes that both adults and adolescents are different, both in cognitive and emotional behaviors. Thus Jett states:

Criminal justice officials should realize that their care, guidance, protection, education, and support are largely the responsibility of adults. Proper guidance is necessary for the ultimate success of our youth. Transferring adolescents to the adult system is counterproductive and even harmful because adult facilities cannot meet the special needs of the juvenile offender (96).

Eventually, it must be noted that unless and until the treatment of the juveniles as juveniles is not made possible on the internally functioning bases of psychology and emotions, it is not going to be a wise remark to suggest that treating juveniles as adults would solve the problem. It is no wonder, on the contrary, that these quick fixes may turn into a problem in the future themselves. It will not be a surprise to experience that time if the violence (both its volume and intensity) among juvenile increases: who know the degree of intensity?

What Mayers (qtd. in Jett A96). argues of is that there must be rehabilitation programs and instruction-based orientations which can be easily incorporated in juvenile jails: the reason being that these types of facilities are generally available in juvenile jails.

So the need is to enhance the functioning and quality of these programs and their executions among the targeted youths for better results. It is not the right point to move youths to adult jails if such programs are not effectively executable; or that there is an overcrowding problem. Another point to mention is that Mayers (qtd. in Jett A96) directs toward the unity of our society with regard to the matter of treating juveniles as adults. According to him, “Once we as a society recognize that waivers to the adult system provide few benefits, we can focus our attention on identifying more effective methods of dealing with the juvenile offender” (96).

Thus, what is required is a rationalistic approach toward solving the problem of increasing violence in juveniles. It is not wise to think or try to implement strategies aimed at short-term, quick-fix, policy. The US legislative policy-making process must keep this in mind so that the future of the country can be saved as well the harbinger of increasing crime among the juveniles can be put to a stop.

Moreover, the duty to address the issue of juvenile treatment does not lie merely on the shoulders of the policymakers. It is the society itself that is to play a dynamic role in the making of the problem a solution: into such a solution which is the solution for everyone: for society as well as for the juveniles themselves.

Works Cited

(No Author). “Juvenile Justice: Reform after One Hundred Years”. American Criminal Law Review 37: 4 (2000): 1409. COPYRIGHT 2000 Georgetown University Law Center.

E. K. Klein. “Dennis the Menace or Billy the Kid: An Analysis of the Role of Transfer to Criminal Court in Juvenile Justice”. American Criminal Law Review. 35: 2. (1998): 371-410. COPYRIGHT 1998 Georgetown University Law Center.

E. Pagnanelli. “Children as Adults: The Transfer of Juveniles to Adult Courts and the Potential Impact of Roper V. Simmons”. American Criminal Law Review. 44: 1 (2007): 175+. COPYRIGHT 2007 Georgetown University Law Center.

D. Hunzeker. “Juvenile Crime, Grown Up Time”. State Legislatures. 21: 5 (1995): 14+. COPYRIGHT 1995 National Conference of State Legislatures.

S. E. Jett. “Boys among Men: Trying and Sentencing Juveniles as Adults”. Corrections Today. 68: 7 (2006): 96. COPYRIGHT 2006 American Correctional Association, Inc.

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LawBirdie. "Juveniles Should Not Be Tried As Adults." March 23, 2023. https://lawbirdie.com/juveniles-should-not-be-tried-as-adults/.