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Child Criminals: what should we do now? Madii 5. 17. 12 There has always been a controversy over how child criminals should be handled in court. People disagree on whether children should be tried as adults for their actions or if their age should be a great determinant of the outcome. Children are very complex. Their life history, home environment, influences, possible mental illnesses, and the simple mentality and moral level of children must be considered when they are being convicted of a crime.
The U. S. is the only country in the world where children are sentenced to die in prison.
Is it fair? The main subject that is debated upon in this issue is the age of maturity. “Child crime is different from adult crime in that the offenders are, in most legal systems, not deemed to be fully conscious moral individuals” (Debatepedia). Although that is true, children should be moral enough to know that extreme crimes are not right. “Maybe that excuse will work for robbery and such.
But when it comes to murder and sex crimes, they should not be able to get out of that. Those are two extreme things that everyone, no matter what age they are, should know are wrong” (Madii Sahli). Every child should know the difference from right and wrong by the age of three or four, or at least have a sense as to what the difference is. The difference was instilled in our brains when we were two” (Courtney B. ). A three or four year old may know right and wrong, but we cannot possibly expect them to understand the consequences of their actions.
We cannot hold a four year old responsible for themselves. Children are very impressionable. The rights and wrongs that they learn from their environment may not be the same as the rights and wrongs of the law.
But should normal children be impressionable enough to be convinced that murder is okay? If it is insisted that people know the difference from right and wrong at the age of three, then why is the age of adulthood so high? Instead of the age of 18 determining when one is an adult, the age should be brought down to sixteen. By the age of sixteen, everyone should know better. “I am only sixteen, and I know better not to commit any crimes. I am old enough to understand consequences for my actions, and every other sixteen year old should be mature enough to know as well. (Madii Sahli). Compared to other countries, sixteen is still a higher age to be considered an adult. Many countries recognize the age of criminal responsibility to be much younger than eighteen. Below is a list of some other countries and their age of legality/adulthood. COUNTRY: AGE OF LEGALITY/ADULTHOOD: England 10 years old for crimes. 13 years old for sex crimes. Romania 12 years old. Greece 12 years old. Turkey 14 years old Armenia 14 years old. Spain 15 years old. Scotland 16 years old. Belgium 18 years old. Luxembourg 18 years old.
On the other hand, United States law uses 18 for many things as well. People are not considered responsible enough to purchase tobacco products, live on your own, get a tattoo/certain piercings, choose to have sex with whomever you want, get married, own property, sue/get sued, or gamble until you are eighteen years old. You cannot even order crayons from a television commercial until you are 18! If you are not responsible enough to make your own choices, then how can you be considered an adult? “There needs to be some balance. The age of adulthood should completely be moved down to 16.
At the age of sixteen, you should be able to get convicted of adult crimes, but you should also be able to smoke, etc. The only things that I think should stay at 18 is the age of being able to move out and live on your own or with a roommate, getting married, and gambling. That makes more sense to me” (Madii Sahli). In 1998, 29% of high school boys in America owned guns. A survey was taken in Virginia in 1996, and reported that 41% of youth have been in a gang or associated themselves with a gang. From those 41%, 69% got involved because of influences coming from their friends and 60% said that they joined for excitement.
Joining a criminal group for excitement shows just how careless children are when it comes to the law. They do not understand their consequences because they believe that they will be treated leniently in the eyes of the court. More needs to be done to show them that they cannot get away with it. “The murderers made their decision. Children always wanted to be treated as adults so why not trial them as adults? That is always a child’s dream, to be treated as an adult” (Courtney B. from Teen Ink). Children should be tested for mental illness before the trial proceeds. As many as 70 percent of youth in the system are affected with a mental disorder, and one in five suffer from a mental illness so severe as to impair their ability to function as a young person and grow into a responsible adult. The prevalence of disruptive behavior disorders among youths in juvenile justice systems is reported to be between 30 percent and 50 percent” (Sarah Hammond). Not only should they be trialed differently, but they should not be placed into a jail. They should be placed somewhere that can take care of them and help to handle their disability.
That way, they might be able to recover properly. Most children who have committed crimes were accompanied by an adult during the incident. Joe Sullivan was thirteen-years-old when he became one of the two thirteen-year-old in the entire country to be sentenced to life without parole for an offense that did not involve a killing. Joe was mentally disabled, and lived in a home in which he was victim to physical and sexual abuse regularly. Two older boys, Nathan McCants (17) and Michael Gulley (15) convinced Joe to participate in a burglary in which they entered an empty household of a 72-year-old elderly woman.
One of the older boys stole jewelry and money, and the homeowner was sexually assaulted in her home later that day, but never saw her attacker. The assault was so brutal that she needed to have corrective surgery. One of the older boys had blamed the sexual assault on Joe. While being blindfolded, the woman listened to the Joe’s voice to see if she recognized it and stated that it “could very well be” him. Both of the older boys received short sentences in juvenile detention, while Joe Sullivan was charged and tried in adult court. Even though Joe was the youngest person in the country sentenced to die in prison for a non-homicide, his lawyer filed a brief on appeal saying there were no issues to challenge in his case. Joe was sent to adult prison when he was just fourteen, and he was repeatedly and brutally victimized by older inmates” (Equal Justice Initiative). Joe, not only having to deal with a traumatic past of his home life and a mental illness, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. The petition stating that this punishment is cruel and usual was denied.
Another convicted child who was influenced by a very bad home life includes Antonio Nunez. When Antonio was thirteen-years-old, he was shot multiple times in a drive by shooting. While his brother tried to help him, he was shot in the head and killed. Because of the traumatic event, he developed post-traumatic stress disorder. His mother was depressed and inactive, his father was an alcoholic, and his siblings were currently being treated for anxiety and trauma. Most children who have commit crimes were influenced and accompanied by an adult. Antonio fell victim to older influences, having got into the car with two older men. 4-year-old Antonio was in a joint trial with the 27-year-old after the other man claimed himself to be kidnapped by them. “The Equal Justice Initiative has documented over 70 cases throughout the United States in which children 14 and younger have been condemned to die in prison, often without consideration of the child’s age of life history. Antonio Nunez is the only child in the country known [in 2007] to be serving a death in prison sentence for his involvement, at age 14, in a single incident where no one was injured” (Equal Justice Initiative Writer).
Sometimes putting a child in an adult jail will only do more harm, and will only give them more bad impressions and thoughts. This is because when you put a child in an adult jail, you are surrounding them with people who have committed crimes as well and are a negative influence. They are being trapped in the same environment that got them there in the first place. “Young people who have been in prison since they were adolescents need help learning basic life skills” (Equal Justice Initiative Writer). According to mental health researchers Laurence Steinberg and Thomas Grisso, unlike an adult, a young teen can change.
Handling child criminals is totally situational. Some of them deserve it, and sometimes it is fair for them to suffer with an extreme punishment. Many children get away with murder. Eric Smith was twelve years old when he murdered a six year old. He was to stay in jail until he was twenty-one. “Eric Smith admitted what he did was wrong but he also said he enjoyed it. There is no chance of rehabilitation for this boy nor is there for any other child murderer” (Courtney B. from Teen Ink). Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were ten years old when the kidnapped a two year old named James Berger when James’s mother went into the grocery store.
They committed many criminal acts against him. They sexually molested him, beat him with a 28 lb iron bar, and poured paint into his eyes. As James was hardly holding on to his life, the two boys placed his beaten body onto the train tracks. When a child does something like that, they are bound to be messed up for the rest of their lives. “The boys obviously knew what they were doing and that it was wrong because they tried covering their tracks by making up stories” (Courtney B. ). Only a severely disturbed child could do something like that so young.
Scientists put together an experiment which compared the brain of a serial killer and a normal person using a CAT scan. The results showed that the serial killers brain was covered in black spots, while the normal person’s brain only had two miniscule black spots. If a child’s brain is already that irregular, how can they recover from that? People are fighting to convince the courts that sentencing a child to die in prison violates the eighth amendment, for it is cruel and unusual. “In 1988, the Supreme Court ruled that no person under the age of sixteen may be executed for a crime.
Twenty states with capital punishment laws consequently established sixteen as the minimum age for execution” (Daily Mail Reporter). “In 2005, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juveniles to death is unconstitutional. The court ruled that life without parole for anything less than homicide was unconstitutional as well” (Daily Mail Reporter). The only catch is that the child can be tried and convicted to be considered an adult in the eyes of the court. That means that no matter their age, they can still be sentenced to death. But no matter what, a child is still a child.
When it comes to life sentencing, those rules should apply to every person under the age of 18. 14-year-old Omer Ninham was sentenced to prison for life after he threw a child off of a parking ramp. He claimed it to be a cruel and unusual punishment. “The Supreme Court ruled that neither the state not the U. S. has any statue prohibiting life sentences without parole for 14-year-olds in homicide cases” (Daily Mail Reporter). When it comes to murder, most states will trial the child as an adult, especially if the crime was first-degree murder. But sometimes in special cases, it is moved into a juvenile court (Natalie Saar). I think that it should only be moved into a juvenile court for two reasons. One being if the child has any type of mental illness that can alter their brain capability, and two being if they are under a certain age. Age 10 for murder and sex crimes, and age 12 for other crimes such as burglary and theft” (Madii Sahli). In 2008, there were 73 children who were sentenced to die in prison for an offence that took place when they were only 13 or 14 years old. This includes a man named Phillip Shaw. Shaw was convicted when he was 14 for a robbery-shooting, and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
When he was 28, a retrial won him his freedom after he had spent 14 years in adult prison. Each side, whether one believes in adult punishment for children or is against it, has their points. There has got to be balance between the two. How to handle children is very situational, and depends on a lot of different things such as their life history, home environment, influences, possible mental illnesses, and the simple mentality and moral level of the child. The U. S. is the only country in the world where children are sentenced to die in prison. Is that fair?
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