“Should Juveniles Be Tried as Adults” is an essay by Laurence Steinberg, which expresses his views of if, when, and why youth offenders should be tried as adults. He compares the juvenile system to the adult system and point out hat the two differ in their respective forms of decision making for treatment or discipline. In the recent past, society has redefined the judicial system for juveniles and is striving to get more youth offenders trued and disciplined in adult jail systems (632). According to Steinberg, “[this] represents a fundamental challenge to the very premise that the juvenile court was founded on – that adolescents and adults are different (632)”, and these forms of discipline are detrimental to the rehabilitation of young criminals.
The author poses the question of how effective the judicial system is at determining when a child is to be tried as an adult and points out three very distinct characteristics of an adolescent individual between the ages of 12 and 17. First, he states that “there are dramatic changes in individuals’ physical, intellectual, emotional, and social capabilities” between these ages (632). Secondly, he claims that between theses ages, individuals that have broken laws are still open to many positive influences that may help them abandon their criminal instincts and tendencies (632).
Lastly, he points out that youth offenders who are sentenced to harsh punishments as adolescents often do not recover from the mental harm it causes because it is an important developmental time and these experiences may have lasting and disadvantageous effects on their adult behaviors (632). In a second argument, Steinberg explains that he doesn’t believe that the age of a young defendant should be overlooked and, as seen earlier in the essay, uses three main points to illustrate this idea. First, he expresses that the legal system has a set of regulations and customs which differs from the individualistic and informal setting of a juvenile court (633). For further explanation of the point, the author informs the reader that the differences between the adult and juvenile systems are significant in that the adult system utilizes only punishment in the form of jail time, probation, and labor (work), whereas the juvenile system uses more unconventional forms of punishment which places an emphasis on rehabilitation and cooperative programs to get adolescent offenders back on the right track (633).
Secondly, he states that it is questionable whether a youthful offender has the competence to stand trial or not because of several factors including maturity and mental health status (633). In a tertiary and final point, the author informs the reader that because the adult court is based strictly on punishment, youth offenders have little to no chance for rehabilitation in the adult system (634). In his final argument, Steinberg suggests how he feels certain age groups should be dealt with in the legal systems. He concludes that children under the age of 12 should most definitely not be tried in an adult courtroom, that individuals older than 16 are “not appreciable different from adults,” and that the decision to try individuals between the ages of 12 and 16 should be based on a n individualized review and personalized assessment of circumstance, case matter, and a multitude of mental, social, and intellectual factors (635). In closing the author reminds us that there is no easy way to make the determination of whether youth offenders should be tried as adults, but that “ignoring the offender’s age entirely is like trying to ignore and elephant that has wandered in to the courtroom. You can do it, but most people will know that something smells foul” (635).