As the incarceration rate is too high, partly due to a minimum prison threshold and excessively long sentences, some states and Congress introduced several bills to reform the current order. None of the federal legislative initiatives had yet become law. Death sentences continue to be imposed in 31 states, seven of which have never been executed. Over the past decades, many death penalties have been carried out in five states.
Minors are tried on par with adults in all American jurisdictions and sentenced to “adult” prison terms. There is no minimum age for criminal responsibility on a general basis; in others, such commitment begins at 10, 12, or 13 years. In some states, teenagers from 14 years old are automatically prosecuted on an equal basis with adults. In 15 states, refusing to refer a juvenile justice case is left to the prosecutor’s discretion, but not the court (Walker and Cesar 13). Across the country, tens of thousands of teenagers under 18 are held in adult prisons and pre-trial detention centers (Walker and Cesar 13). The United States remains the only country where minors are sentenced to life in prison without parole.
In 2015, there was a particular trend towards a decrease in the number of minors prosecuted equally with adults. In Illinois, a new law has removed the automatic referral of adolescents under the age of 15 to regular courts. In New Jersey, the minimum age for general criminal responsibility has risen from 14 to 15 years (Rangel et al. 27). The criminal law and juvenile justice system need to be overhauled. As a result, the criteria should be finalized by which the court is obliged to be guided when considering the issue of transferring the case. This can help reduce the number of minors who are prosecuted on a general basis.
Criminal repression against minors in the United States is particularly detrimental, as juvenile prisoners are relatively high. It costs about $ 100,000 a year to keep one juvenile in a correctional facility (Rangel et al. 28). The traditional system of justice, within the framework of which predominantly imprisonment is appointed, does not help prevent the relapse of minors, and entails high financial costs does not provide due regard for the characteristics of children and the rights of victims.
Under common law in the United States, a person under the age of 7 is not subject to criminal liability for their behavior. They are not considered to have the appropriate men’s rea. A person who has reached the age of 14 is fully criminally liable for the act he has committed. Between the ages of 7 and 14, a person is presumed to be “incapable” of committing a crime. Still, such a presumption can be rebutted by evidence that the person understood what he was doing and that what he was doing was “wrong.” Moreover, if the presumption is strong enough at the age of 7, it gradually weakens, and by the age of 14, it disappears altogether (Rangel et al. 25). The criminal codes of individual states usually indicate a certain age (usually 14 years old) below which a person is not criminally responsible for his actions. It seems that the legal approach to the problem of the responsibility of minors in the United States is specific. Thus, in the US criminal law, no special biased norms govern minors’ criminal liability. Although in many European countries, such mitigating criteria exist, which is explained primarily by the principles of humanism and seems to be a rather convincing argument.
In the United States, the question of taking into account the characteristics of juvenile defendants is complemented by a deep analysis of the norms of the Constitution and the fundamental principles of criminal law. This is also confirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States. The court ruled unconstitutional the appointment of the death penalty for a minor, stating that the irresponsible behavior of minors is not as contemptuous as adults. Thus, the guilt of children in the USA was found diminished culpability. In some cases, it was established, not constitutionality during the trial of minors. The application of life imprisonment to children without the possibility of early release for a crime is not associated with causing death to a person. The court found that minors have different needs than adults and also have an increased ability to rehabilitate.
Additionally, the US Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life imprisonment without parole is unconstitutional for juvenile murderers. In such cases, it refers to the reduced – ability to change personality and also indicates the need to consider the age and related qualities of the minor, such as immaturity, impulsivity, and inability to assess the risks and consequences of their behavior fully. These decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States concern the most severe penalties fundamentally do not solve the problem of excessive criminal repression.
American researchers offer various recipes for this problem, including the use of the possibilities of restorative justice. It is a broad concept that includes many different models based on the assertion that the traditional American criminal justice system ignores the restoration of social justice as a critical goal of punishment, concentrating mainly on applying discipline to criminals. As a rule, restorative justice can significantly reduce the rate of recidivism. According to statistics, about one in 50 teenagers re-commit a crime after completing a beneficial justice program and serving a prison sentence, nearly half of teenagers (Sattler 454). While the punishment of perpetrators also plays a significant role in restorative justice, the focus is on the relationship between the stakeholders: the perpetrator, the victim, their loved ones, the community in which they live.
Fairness is achieved through a deliberative process, which can take different forms depending on the crime’s nature and the parties’ characteristics. The rules highlight the minor’s initial contact with law enforcement, as it can significantly impact the adolescent’s attitude towards the state and society. In addition, the success and further work with the offender depend on him. Therefore, a gentle but demanding approach is recommended. Since a minor is primarily in contact with the police, they must act competently and adequately.
Juvenile justice services should be developed, and a set of laws, rules, and regulations should be adopted that relate directly to juvenile offenders and institutions and bodies whose functions include the administration of juvenile justice. This is to ensure that the authorities can meet the needs of juvenile offenders while protecting their fundamental rights. At the same time, the needs of society will also be satisfied. The juvenile justice system itself should be aimed primarily at ensuring the well-being of the juvenile and ensuring that any measures of influence on juvenile offenders are always commensurate with both the personality of the offender and the circumstances of the offense.
No matter how the state teaches adolescents to live in a “normal” environment, returning to an abnormal one (parents with alcohol addiction, the street, and so on), they will adapt to it because often adapting is all they can do. The correct approach is forming a personal beginning, the possibility of creating what psychotherapists call “an instance of conscience.” The crime problem is not a social problem and not even a psychological one, although it is in these areas that it manifests itself most clearly; it is a spiritual problem (Sattler 457). Many colonies use various methods to rehabilitate adolescents. For example, some adolescents are encouraged to work with animal shelters and sick people. This therapy works because one of these teenagers’ problems (with criminal experience) is their lack of empathy. They do not feel the pain of others and, in most cases, do not show concern for others.
As for the colonies, the problem is not in themselves but that adolescents return to the environment that brought them to prison. Today the situation often happens the following way: before age 18, different departments and institutions transfer a teenager. The authorities must increase this age to at least 23 years so that a specialist can combine legal responsibility and psychological maturity. Society needs a competent probation service, which the United States cannot yet create. Thus, to solve the problem of excessive criminalization of minors, it is necessary to change the judicial practice. Federal judges should consider the adverse outcomes overcriminalization and the associated broad interpretation of federal law can generate.
Rangel, Virginia S., Hein, Sascha and Charles Rotramel. “A Researcher–practitioner agenda for studying and supporting youth reentering school after involvement in the juvenile justice system”. Educational Research, vol. 49, no. 3, 2020. pp. 24-31.
Sattler, Anna L. “Treating youths in the Juvenile justice system”. Pediatric Clinics, vol. 64, no. 2, 2017. pp. 451-462
Walker, D’Andre and Gabriel T. Cesar. “Examining the “Gang Penalty” in the juvenile system: A focal concerns perspective”. Youth violence and juvenile justice, vol. 18, no. 4, 2020. pp. 11-16.