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The Controversies in Juvenile Justice Essay

Each year, thousands of adolescents in the United States have been tried and sentenced to life in prison without parole, a punishment that has many of its own controversies. Debates are held on whether or not these kids should be tried and sentenced in the same way that adults are tried and sentenced. Many justices say that since children are emotionally, physically and mentally different than adults, they should never be tried in the same way that adults are. Other justices argue that if these children are capable of committing murder, they are also capable of undergoing the same punishment that an adult would undergo. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole is unconstitutional because it violates the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Adolescents deserve to be tried differently simply because of the fact that they are not adults, and the legal system shouldn’t treat them as such. Furthermore, juveniles should not be sentenced to life in prison without parole because they have not yet reached their full maturity, they are capable of rehabilitation, and if they were sentenced as adults, they should be given the same privileges as adults in the first place. Adolescence is defined as a transitional period in human development and maturity.

This is a time where teenagers are rapidly undergoing change, specifically in the brain. Paul Thompson, a writer for The Sacramento Bee, includes in one of his articles that there is a “massive loss of brain tissue that occurs in the teenage years.” This explains why teenagers often act with impulsive and erratic behavior. This brain tissue is gray matter, which aids in regulating self-control and impulses, and it is being purged at fast rates. Thompson goes on to say, “These Nailling 2 frontal lobes, which inhibit our violent passions, rash actions, and regulate our emotions, are vastly immature throughout the teenage years.” There are obviously huge differences in the maturity levels of an adolescent and an adult; therefore it is unfair to sentence an immature adolescent to life in prison without parole because he or she will never be able to reach that maturity level that adults are already at. Regardless of this type of tissue loss and brain development in general, teens should still be held accountable for the crimes they commit, just not to the same extent or in the same way that adults are.

Rehabilitation is perhaps the most hopeful form of change that a juvenile could be granted. Because of the fact that they are so young, it is fair to say that all adolescents have the capacity of changing their bad habits and their lifestyles. Gail Garinger, a juvenile court judge and the state of Massachusetts’ child advocate, writes in the New York Times that children are “promising candidates for rehabilitation.” As a child, to be sentenced to life in prison without parole is equivalent to taking away any form of hope for them to change, which most of them are capable of if they could all just be given a chance. Garinger also states that adolescents’ “characters are still in formation.”

She means that because of this formation that is taking place in the teenage years, this is the best time for them to be offered a chance to rehabilitate themselves before it is too late and they are locked up in prison for their entire life. It is one thing to sentence an adult to life without parole, but to give that same verdict to a child is simply unjust. Many juveniles across the country are unfairly being tried as adults. These kids, who clearly have not yet reached adulthood, have not experienced any type of freedom that grown-ups have, are being condemned and sentenced to a life in prison without parole. Marjie Lundstrom, a columnist for The Sacramento Bee, covers the controversial topic of juveniles who are convicted as adults in their court cases.

She implies that it is unfair for a child to be tried as Nailling 3 an adult and to be held by the same standards as an adult would be in court. In one of her articles, she points out how kids “can’t smoke, or drink, or go to R movies…can’t vote, have curfews…” yet, many of these kids, who all have these restrictions, are being treated like they are adults who have none of these restrictions. What’s the point of having a juvenile system in the first place if kids are going to be punished the same exact way as adults are? Lundstrom says, “Kids are different. Their reasoning is not fully developed. They are not adults.” It cannot be made any clearer than that, the fact that they are only kids, and they have the right to be treated differently than adults.

There is a huge gap between the age of seventeen and eighteen. Between a child and an adult. Between immaturity and maturity. This gap is a disparity that the juvenile system is entitled to recognize. It is crucial to understand that juveniles should not be tried as adults and sentenced to life in prison without parole because these adolescents haven’t yet reached their full maturity, because they are capable of rehabilitation, and because it is unjust to be tried as an adult but not be allowed the same legal privileges that all adults have.

Works Cited

Thompson, Paul. “Startling Finds on Teenage Brains.” The Sacramento Bee 25 May 2001: n. pag. Print. Garinger, Gail. “Juveniles Don’t Deserve Life Sentences.” The New York Times 14 Mar. 2012: n. pag. Print. Lundstrom, Marjie. “Kids Are Kids – Until They Commit Crimes.” The Sacramento Bee 1 Mar. 2001: n. pag. Print.


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