24 October 2014
The Controversy Surrounding Juvenile Justice in the United States In the society we live in today, the majority of juveniles being charged as adults are those that committed felony offenses, but in most cases, not all the youths would warrant aggravated felony charge as if they were an adult. The U.S. juvenile justice system is currently designed to address the special needs of minors who engage in criminal acts, but may not be held fully responsible for their behavior as they are not yet legal adults recognized by society. Even before in 1998 the Supreme Court had banned the execution of teenagers who are under sixteen for their crimes (Liptak). Between 1992 and 1999, all the states except for Nebraska passed the laws that make it easier for juveniles to be tried as adults (Krikorian). Also in 2001, teen brain research has provided concrete evidence that adolescent brains are not fully developed and they are not yet adults (Thompson). The United States Supreme Court had decided to outlaw the death penalty for offenders who committed crimes when they were younger than eighteen in 2005 (Steinberg and Scott). And in 2012, the Supreme Court had made a decision against mandatory life sentences without parole for offenders younger than eighteen (“Supreme”). Juvenile who committed crimes have become a big issue across the whole nation, therefore, the juvenile justice system is important and necessary because it gives them the opportunity to correct their mistakes and resolve problems they have. However, teenagers and children are not as emotionally and mentally developed as adults; they might not have a true grasp of the consequences of a crime and how the rest of their life could be affected. The controversy surrounding adolescents being tried, sentenced as adults, and subjected to serve abuse in prison have make youth offenders less culpable than adults and less worthy punishment and more rehabilitation.
The recent transformation of juvenile law has largely ignored the fact that adolescents, even those who commit serious crimes, are different from adults. In 2005, the United States Supreme Court had banned the death penalty for offenders under the age of 18 when they committed their crimes base on the issue of culpability, or criminal blameworthiness. Steinberg and Scott argue that juveniles should not be held to the same standards of criminal responsibility as adults, because adolescents’ decision-making capacity is diminished, they are less able to resist coercive influence, and their character is still undergoing change. The uniqueness of immaturity as a mitigating condition argues for a commitment to a legal environment under which most youths are dealt with in a separate justice system and none are eligible for capital punishment. Studies have shown that “ Although intellectual abilities stop maturing around the age 16, psychosocial capability continues to develop well into early adulthoods” (Steinberg and Scott). The study’s finding showed several characteristics of adolescence that were related to resolve the criminal culpability.
Adolescent offenders have diminished competence to participate in courts proceeding against them, and their limited capacity also makes them less culpable than adults. According to Greg Krikorian, kids should not be tried as adult because they are not emotionally or intellectually able to defend themselves. A study by a University of Massachusetts professor showed that some kids and teenagers had “level of reasoning and awareness comparable to those of mentally ill adults judged not fit to stand trial” (Krikorian). This is significant because 200,000 juveniles are tried as adults every year, and many states have made it easier to try young people as adults. The two most important factors that can determine youth’s ability to understand the judicial process are age and intelligence. Laurence Steinberg, Temple University professor stated, “It is a