Table of Contents
It is clear that sentencing children as adults is a sensitive subject and a dispute that questions whether to punish juvenile criminals to the same extent as adults. Different opinions arise considering children and how to treat and try them in criminal cases. One part of the society says that children do not know any better and have no common sense or brains, while others say that children have plenty of common sense and brains. Many people claim that most of the children caught in criminal acts grew up in environments that inherently perceives criminal behaviour as acceptable innocent or unintentional act that the minors get exposed to. In spite opinions, analysis and professional research on this question, it is still highly debatable due to the conflicting stands taken by the society on whether to charge children as adults in adult courts or as children in juvenile courts. Therefore, the essay aims at debunking these opinions to find the most prudent course of action on the debate.
According to Cole and Smith (2007), it is prudent not to charge children as adults in any situation. It is wrong and ridiculous to try a child as an adult and possibly put them in jail with other older offenders. This will not only expose them to possible physical abuse, but also emotional abuse that will eventually bring negative consequences later in their lives. Prison systems that deal with juvenile cases should instead help these minors turn their lives around through rehabilitation to give them a second chance in their lives. Effective rehabilitation is better for the society in the long run than releasing someone who has spent the entire young adult life in general prison population. Young people from juvenile prison are far less likely to commit crimes than those released from an adult facility. It is important to understand that children do not have the knowledge and moral capacities to understand the consequences of their actions. It is also clear they lack skills and ability to defend themselves in trials as defendants. Therefore, those who expose children to such a kind of act are liable for collective responsibility due to their failure to rehabilitate the minors themselves. As a result, juvenile courts are created for preventing juvenile offenders from going through adult courts. They, basically, handle children crimes to rehabilitate these minor offenders and not punishing them.
As noted by Kail and Cavanaugh (2012), children in adult prisons face a number of problems including exposure to higher rates of physical and sexual abuse, and even suicide in extreme cases. They often do not receive education or other basic needs. Therefore, juvenile courts are important in dealing with children cases for their premises to consider that juvenile offenders are immature. The courts have a change of social environment in which the livelihood of the juveniles is in a more effective way to cut juvenile violence than punishments received in adult courts. The juvenile courts generally aim at serving the best interests of the children.
Criminal activities over the years have repelled the society's members against each other and tore the threads that weave the society together in general. In spite of this, criminal activities by children need some level of reformation and change in the way of punishment. The society should have some level of punishment that seeks the need of change within children who undertake criminal activities. Even though some of the mistakes made by children are terrible in nature, the punishments should differ from those meted on adult offenders. This is because children are in a different point of their life which differentiates them from adult offenders (Schmidt, Shelley & Bardes, 2009).
Prosecuting children as adults has long-term consequences. Depending on the laws of the state they reside in, they are likely to be arraigned in criminal courts for any offense committed as a juvenile. They may have their convictions as public records, and this could ruin their livelihoods, especially because they have to report their conviction during employment applications. They may lose the right to vote and even the right to serve in the military or other fields that articulate their criminal records be clean (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2012).
Adult criminal systems basically prosecute adults. Therefore, prosecuting children under this system clearly undermines justice. The processes used in the adult courts are rigid and antagonistic in structure with very little or no allowance at all for the limited experience and understanding in young minds. Attorneys and judges in adult courts are not trained to understand the level of children's cognitive development. As a result, children in adult criminal courts are ill-equipped when compared to adults in the same court. Defense legal representatives and psychologists working with children in adult court systems have identified some of the disadvantages children face at each stage of the process. For instance, when arrested, children readily confess in detail and tend to over-implicate their role in the crime to protect their partners in crime. These offenders lack time references and are frequent to narrate the events with consistency so that their accounts of events seem to contradict themselves over time and may be discredited before a jury or judge (Cole & Smith, 2009).
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In bail or bond court hearings, questions asked in adult courts to set bond are not right for children. This is because they are not employed, they do not own properties, and often lack ties with the community. Judges often set bail lower than if it was an adult, but often this bail remains unattainable for children from low in-come families. As a result, many children remain in these jails. Adult courts are often crowded during and after preliminary hearings. This is because public defenders or assigned counsels who represent poor people have many clients. In this case, children get penalized for their inability to rank facts and information that provides attorneys with what they need to work on the case (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2012).
Minor offenders have difficulties in remembering names and addresses when preparing for trials. They experience difficulties in ranking facts that are important to the adult defending them by frequently straining out the information that they think is damaging and exaggerate whatever they think is helpful. This notion undermines their defense. They try to protect their parents or guardians and idolize roles and stories designed to picture the world the way they want it. In adult court systems, cross-examining children for trial takes more hours, and most attorneys lack time for this. Children are terrible witnesses during trials. They seem calm during cross-examination, but in the real sense the experience overwhelms them. As a result, they are prey to cross-examination that takes advantage of their preceding unpredictable statements that stream towards their wish to protect their family and friends (Schmidt, Shelley & Bardes, 2009).
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As noted by Cole and Smith (2009), appeal negotiations cases have indicated that children have limited capabilities in understanding many aspects of the court systems and suffer the most when put at crossroads on whether to reject or accept offers. Minor offenders are likely to accept any agreement that gets them out of the court or gets them home. They are unlikely to grasp or act on how significant that act is in the long-term. For instance, the impact it might have if they fail to follow the terms of the arrangement. These minors hardly grasp the benefits or shortcomings of a ruling of months or years. They are often at a comprehensive loss to weigh the strengths of a case against them vis-à-vis their want to get out of the prison immediately. It is also clear that children sentenced in adult courts despite facing less serious charges, get punished more severely than when sentenced in juvenile courts. This is because trial officers and those who recommend sentencing in adult courts are most familiar with the desires and programs that work for adults and are generally not conversant with children cases.
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According to many research studies, prosecution of children as adults undermines public safety. A number of research studies have indicated that most juveniles released from adult systems are more likely to commit crime again than minor offenders held in juvenile systems. A study of over 500 juveniles charged in Pennsylvania showed that young people transferred to adult courts were more likely to be incarcerated and convicted, but their recidivism rates were higher than the rates for those juveniles who stayed in juvenile systems. Another study compared 15-16 year old juveniles accused of robbery in New Jersey and New York. It was found out that juveniles from New York, whose cases originated from criminal courts, were more inclined to commit crime sooner than juveniles from New Jersey, whose cases were heard in juvenile courts (Cole & Smith, 2009).
When children charged with crimes subject to adult courts, they are held in adult jails while they await trial. Most of these cases are eventually sent to juvenile courts through legal procedures. The cases are transferred based on factors that basically led to the crime occurring, the particular time of the crime occurred, and the perpetrator. Due to this, many children spend a significant amount of time in adult jails despite their cases being eligible for juvenile courts hearings. Studies have shown that juveniles who spent extra time in adult jails are more crime prone and there were significant risks of attack by other inmates, injury and murder. It is also clear that in some cases, these juveniles were not arraigned in courts for trial (Schmidt, Shelley & Bardes, 2009).
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Effective provisions in most states articulate that juveniles must be treated as adults in future cases once prosecuted as adults regardless the nature of the crime. Adult criminal systems are clearly not intended to prosecute children. This is because the processes make no allowance for the distinguished characteristics between adult and youthful minds. Children have less knowledge, understanding and experience. In most cases, prosecutors are not trained well enough to get the distinctive limited in abilities between children’s understanding and experience. On the contrary, the juvenile systems have petitions and detention hearings when information to give a verdict on the alleged crime is inadequate. Instead of trials, juvenile courts embark on fact finding hearings that do not give verdict, but instead adjudicate juveniles (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2012).
The justice system of America aims at deterrence, removal from society, retribution and rehabilitation. However, in cases that charge children as adults, the system succeeds at removal from society and retribution, but fails to rehabilitate and deter. It fails to deter because it is impossible to fix the underdeveloped decision-making part of the brain. Children do not have the power to control how quick their brains develop. The justice system, in most cases, does not rehabilitate, but instead gives up on these minors and labels them as permanently dangerous to the society. Children tried in adult courts, in most cases, are sentenced more severely than those in juvenile courts. It is disadvantageous because judges and jury in adult courts lack the wide range of punishment and treatment options that are available to juvenile court judges. Conviction of children in adult courts carries more social stigma (Bergman, Berman & Berman-Barrett, 2009).
Children criminal acts should best be handled at juvenile courts so as to avoid any further serious consequences that stream from the correction of the minors by the adult criminal system that advocates for corporal hardcore punishment. This is because it further opens ways for other crimes in the future. In juvenile courts, moderate offenses are reviewed by the county attorney. While many criticize the juvenile system, it is an essential element of the criminal justice system. It is removal would have serious consequences to the children and the society at large. The juvenile justice system is one of the society’s most valuable public programs that effectively prevents and deters children from indulging in criminal activities. The system provides early dealings with juvenile offenders. Therefore, the collapse or abolishment of juvenile courts would lead to unfair treatment of juvenile offenders in adult courts. These children offenders will not get into proper programs and it is a definite indicator that would be a great burden on the tax payers. With the overloaded works of the courts, more violent minor offenders would stay in the society awaiting their day in court and in turn increasing the work load for police departments (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2012).
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Transferring children to adult criminal justice systems is a fundamental reconsideration of the classical view that felonious children have to think over their lives, and that is why the system has to concentrate on rehabilitation of juveniles rather than on reprimanding. Since the number of juvenile related cases considered in adult criminal courts grows, people who are induced in the justice system are gradually become more aware of the fact that adult courts treat children in unfair and wrong way; having settings that are unsuitable for children whose immaturity puts at a disadvantage at each stage of the justice system. Everyday, there is an increase in the number of children imprisoned in jails for adults that suffer from long-term and destructive effects. In addition, the burden of adult punishments away from deterring crimes enhances the possibility of young people getting involved in further criminal acts. Therefore, it would be prudent to end this essay be stating that children should not be tried in adults courts as it negates the paramount goal of the criminal justice system that involves rehabilitating criminal offenders to give them a second chance in life.