“Are you the same person you were at 15?”(unknown). At the age of 15, most teenagers are barely beginning to drive; according to the law they are not old enough to drink, buy tobacco or be out past 10pm. Therefore, why is it that 15-year old’s can be treated as adults in criminal court. In sentencing juveniles, the focus should remain on rehabilitation, so they may one day return as functioning members of society. We currently have a system that gives prosecutors and judges the unchecked authority to push children into the adult system where they can be given life imprisonment and in extreme cases capital punishment. Although juvenile crime has always been prominent in society, the way we decide to handle the problem at hand is simple unethical as well as ineffective.
Juveniles should not receive harsh sentences such as life imprisonment because the brain of a minor is not fully developed when compared to an adult. This difference in development affects the part of the brain that affects our personal moral compass. Meaning, children are much more subject to making decisions without thinking about the possible consequences. Many argue that due to this difference in mental processes, minors should be kept out of criminal court.
In the article entitled “Cruel and Unusual Punishment: The Juvenile Death Penalty: Adolescence Brain Development and Legal Culpability” written by an undisclosed author; the process of a new technology is discussed, one that gives doctors the power to examine the brain of children over a period of a few years. It is stated “The evidence is now strong that the brain does not reach its full development until the early 20’s” (unknown). It is clear that juveniles cannot mentally handle making adult decisions.
Therefore, instead of being pushed into the adult court system, judges need to work with these children towards rehabilitation As juvenile delinquency became a more apparent problem, it became very clear that something had to be done. In 2005 The Supreme Court ruled in the controversial case known as Roper V Simmons that anyone who was under the age of 18 at the time of their crime cannot be executed due to the fact that it falls under “Cruel and Unusual Punishment” which is protected by the 8th amendment on the Bill of Rights.
The Juvenile Court system was originally made to protect and rehabilitate. However, several U.S Supreme Court cases in the 1960’s as well as the 1970’s slowly began to blur the lines of the special features originally made to distinguish the juvenile court system from criminal court. Juveniles do not have the mental capabilities to be considered guilty of crimes such as first-degree murder. A recent trend that has been seen is the overuse of life imprisonment, in the article entitled “Juveniles Serving Life Without Parole” written by Linda Marie Kelly argues “over 1,700 teens are serving life without parole prison sentences” (Kelly).
The observation can be made that many prosecutors push for life sentences in order to “teach a lesson” however, it is unfair to think one can lose their entire life for a crime that was committed as a child. One must also consider that children are easily victims to negative influence. In the same article by Kelly, she also states “Data research of 15 teens (Ages 13-17) shows that children whose parents are neglectful or uninvolved will likely seek acceptance with peers, gangs or negative influences” (Kelly). In many cases the child is not at fault for what they have endured. Some parents are in many cases uninvolved or abusive, being submitted to any level of abuse can affect a child for the rest of their life.
Forever affecting the way, they make decisions and as well as affecting future relationships. It is clear that some children need psychological help instead of excessive prison sentences. In many criminal cases, the children are the victims of abuse and one day after years of having emotion bottled up; they become the abuser. Another major problem that must be considered is the fact that in many cases juvenile inmates who are people of color find themselves being convicted of life terms or longer sentences in comparison to their Caucasian counterparts. In the article entitled “Juvenile Life Without Parole Isn’t Colorblind” written by an undisclosed author, it is stated “80% of the people serving juvenile life sentences without parole in Pennsylvania are people of color – a pattern repeated across the country” (Undisclosed).
It is clear that the juvenile court system is unjust due to the fact that they are inconsistent with their rulings as well as seemingly having a racial bias towards people of color. A child should not have to lose the chance to live their life, due to someone’s prejudice views. Not only is it unjust, but also unlawful. In the same article, the undisclosed author argues “Since 1992 a black juvenile arrested for homicide has been twice as likely as his white counterpart to be sentenced to life without parole”. (Unknown) the statistics given clearly depict an extreme racial bias which is incredibly unfair to the inmates subjected to it. Therefore, further proving the argument that juveniles should remain in juvenile court were the main goal becomes rehabilitation.
Two real life examples of the consequences of juveniles being pushed into criminal court would be the personal testimonies of Dontez Tillman and Patrick Gray. Dontez Tillman was 14 years old at the age of his crime. In 2008 Dontez Tillman was convicted of beating a homeless man to death with a friend who was also 14. when asked how he felt, he stated “Yeah. I was crying, if somebody tells you ‘life’ and you don’t cry, you are a murderer. That’s not me” (Tillman). Dontez was the youngest Juvenile in the state of Michigan to receive a life sentence with no possibility of parole. During his trial Tillman confessed to having kicked the victim 3 to 4 times in the head, he then told his friends they had to leave. It is unfair that Mr. Tillman lost the chance to live his life for a decision he made at the age of 14. Children are not able to properly process a situation as well as think about the possible consequences.
Another inmate is Patrick Gray who is currently 39; he was 16 at the age of his crime. He was convicted of murder in the 1988 fatal shooting of a Kalamazoo man; his older brother who also participated in the crime was found not guilty. Mr. Gray said in a quote “In the eyes of certain people, they think justice has been done. But in my heart, I know it wasn’t (Gray). Mr. Gray’s quote is a direct example of a juvenile offender who grows out of their stage of delinquency. Everyone goes through phases as a teenager. To have to live by a mistake one committed as a child is an immoral punishment to impose on somebody.
In addition, children should not be tried as adults because in many cases they were under the influence of somebody else. Minors are not competent to make life changing decisions.