3 March 13, 2014
Recently there has been much contention regarding the issue of the punishment of juvenile offenders. In the late 1980’s a series of criminologists anticipated a sharp rise in juvenile crime so politicians began to legislate out of fear by lowering the age that minors could be remanded to the adult justice system. Their primary worry was that juveniles would be released at the ages of 18 to 21. In conjunction with adult mandatory adult sentencing rules, many of the minors are currently serving life sentences. Now, in 2014, there are over 2,500 juveniles in adult prisons in the United States. There is a prominent fault in this system; the fact that the maturity and culpability of teens tends to be overlooked as the authorities blindly commits many of them to life-in-prison. Mandatory sentencing laws restrict the judges’ ability to serve justice by tailoring the punishment to fit the crime. Juvenile criminals should be judged based on the merit of their case, not based on flawed legislation.
In the article “Startling Finds On Teenage Brains” by Paul Thompson of the Sacramento Bee, he attempts to explain away teen violence by saying, ‘…massive loss of brain tissue that occurs in the teenage years…brain cells and connections are only lost in the areas controlling impulses, risk taking, and self-control…’. This is insinuating that teens are somehow less responsible for the actions they commit. This is a falsity. If this was the case then the same behaviors should be seen around the world and they are not. In fact juvenile crime is considerably lower in all other parts of the world; the United States leads the world in teenage violent crime rates. The actual problem is a society that promotes a self-gratifying lifestyle, ingraining in children the concept that their feelings reign paramount above anything else. It is only logical that this frame of mind should spill into how teenagers handle various aspects of their lives.
Quite often in juvenile homicide cases, the defendant is either not able to give reason for committing murder or more disturbingly wanting to see what it was like to kill someone. James Wilson, a Harvard educator and renowned criminologist said ‘…others will seek it [crime] out even if we do everything to reform them. Wicked people exist. Nothing avails except to set them apart from innocent people. Many minors that go into the juvenile justice system receive lighter sentences than adults. In the article, “On Punishment and Teen Killers”, Jennifer Jenkins recalls the story of how such a killer took the life of her sister and unborn child. The article quotes the perpetrator as saying he ‘[wanted to] see what it would