A movement has taken hold of our country to change the juvenile justice system, and erase any distinction between young offenders and adult criminals. Almost all fifty states have changed their juvenile justice laws, allowing more youths to be tried as adults and scrapping long-time efforts to help rehabilitate delinquent kids and prevent future crimes. It seems to be plain and simple, a minor in this country is defined as a person under the age of eighteen. How then can we single out certain minors and call them adults? Were they considered adults before they carried out an act of violence? No. How then, did a violent act cause them to cross over a line that is defined by age? The current debate over juvenile crime is being dominated by two voices: elected officials proposing quick-fix solutions, and a media more intent on reporting violent crimes than successful prevention efforts. Minors should not be tried as adults in our society today. This is obvious through looking at propositions by our government such as Proposition 21, which is statistics on juvenile crime from specific cases where minors were sentenced in adult courts.
Politicians feel that best solution is to lock up youth offenders for long periods of time. Most studies demonstrate that putting young offenders in adult prisons leads to more crime, higher prison costs, and increased violence. Yet, our nation is spending more and more on prisons, and less on crime prevention efforts. Some states spend more on prisons than they do on education. The cost of keeping juveniles in prison as compared to putting them into rehabilitation programs is astronomically higher. It can cost five thousand dollars to keep a juvenile in prison, when all they need to do is go to high school. Also the effectiveness of prisons preventing juveniles from becoming repeat offenders is low. Kids, who have already spent time in adult prisons, are far more likely to commit more serious crimes when they are released. Crime prevention programs work and are affordable. They have also been shown to reduce crime substantially.
There are many crime prevention programs around the country that have been very successful in helping to reduce juvenile crime. Many states use programs that are designed to help parents of troubled kids in raising their children. These programs offer strategies and tactics for helping supervise and discipline troubled children. This is done, because it is believed that one of the causes of delinquency is that parents of kids with delinquent tendencies simply don’t know what to do with them. The parents just let their kids commit any crimes they want, because they do not have any idea how to prevent them. These programs as well as other similar ones have been shown to have quite an influence on crime prevention.
Media reports on juvenile crime are greatly exaggerated. Crime level indicators show that the male “at risk” population will rise over the next decade, but the levels are far from the explosive level that the media says. In fact, the levels are not high at all. The public also holds greatly distorted views about the prevalence and severity of juvenile crime. Contrary to what the people think, the percentage of violent crimes committed by juveniles is low. Young people commit under ten percent of violent crimes. Also, most juvenile arrests have nothing to do with violence. Most kids only go through the juvenile justice system once, and that is for some minor crime such as drug posession. Most youths will simply out grow “delinquent” behavior once they mature. But the media thrives on these stories, so they make it appear that crime is everywhere in order to sell more newspapers, or have people watch their broadcast. This simply shows how the media exaggerates what they are saying about juveniles.
History is known to repeat itself. This saying is no lie when you look at the history of juvenile justice. Until Chicago established the first juvenile court in the United States in 1899, children 14 and older were considered to be as responsible as adults for their actions. Minors as young as 13 were occasionally sentenced to death, and some were executed. Discomfort with the death penalty and with imprisoning children with adults led to the creation of a separate court. This court acted as the “parent or guardian” of young offenders. Solutions include therapy, education, and community service. So if we already felt that children should not be able to be tried as adults and we created a juvenile system to correct this, why turn our backs on it and go back to our cruel ways of more than 100 years ago? The answer is simple, we shouldn’t. We need to improve our juvenile system, a system that has been working fine since 1899.
The government has taken the initiative to come up with a plan of their own called Proposition 21, which would try offenders as adults rather than juvenile. Proposition 21 would require juvenile offenders 14 years or older to be charged as adults. It would limit confidentiality for juveniles who are charged with or convicted of specified felonies. The largest change under Proposition 21, is that it would require that certain juvenile crime offenders be held in a local or state correctional facilities rather than in juvenile facilities. It would designate certain crimes as violent and serious, thereby making offenders subject to longer sentences. Proposition 21 was proposed so that fourteen year olds and older would be tried as adults for serious crimes. If Proposition 21 passes it is going to send thousands of fourteen to sixteen year olds to state prison. Proposition 21 does nothing to protect our communities, and all it does is imprison children. Rather than decrease, if proposition 21 passes, crime rates are going to increase.
This will happen, because children will be involved in more prison crimes and there will be more crimes used to incriminate young children. If passed, it will imprison many juveniles with “top-notch” criminals. These children will not be given the opportunity for rehabilitation like in the juvenile system. Without treatment and education, the only thing a juvenile can learn while locked up with adult criminals, is how to become a better criminal. These teenagers will not be given the opportunity of rehabilitation and will come out of jail only worse then they were before. Our nation also has a tragic record of sexual and physical assaults on juveniles in prison with adult criminals. Adult criminals will then most likely take advantage of these teenagers. Proposition 21 is a horrible idea and is a step in the wrong direction that only further hurts our youth.
Many people feel that juvenile crime is getting out of control. If you look at the statistics, you can see that this is not true. The arrest rate for violent juvenile crime has fallen for four years in a row; according to the Juvenile Justice Department report released this month. If this rate is declining is there a need to make harsher laws for minors? No. When looking at statistics you must look for misleading notions in the reports. The public rarely hears the good news in the juvenile court systems. This alone tells us, they do deserve a second chance, and that we cannot give up on our youth.
In conclusion, the topic of juvenile justice and sentencing minors with adult penalties is a heated debate. Many elected officials go for the quick-fix solutions. The media will always show the worst of juvenile crime, and not any positive which makes people feel that there is a huge problem. Minors should not be tried as adults in our society today, because it does not help keeping our country crime-free. Bad quick fixes such as Proposition 21 do not help, the just send our society a step back. Juvenile crime does exist and youths do commit violent acts.
However, it is not on the scale that many people would like the public to believe. The statistics do not lie and juvenile crime is falling. The solution is to this problem is not a simple one and cannot be solved by simply putting kids in adult prisons or propositions. More effective solutions should be explored and put to use. We need to have faith in out juvenile system. The law created the defining line between minors and adults, but now everyone wants to ignore the definition because the crime got more ugly. The minor is still a minor, no matter how ugly the act.