No Prison Time for Juvenile Crime
Students are shooting up schools across the country. Kids as young as twelve and thirteen are being convicted of murdering their peers. Right here in Hanover, two teens have been charged with the murders of Dartmouth professors. Although juvenile crime across the country may not be on the rise, high publicity, headline-grabbing juvenile-perpetrated homicides certainly are.
Prosecutors, attempting to satiate public demand for "justice," have begun trying these juvenile offenders in adult courts and sending them to adult prison. But is it really fair to send children into a penal system like ours, which ignores rehabilitation and is almost exclusively focused upon retribution? Is it right to essentially give up on these children at such a young age? Is this aggressive prosecution tactic in the best interest of the juvenile defendant or the community as a whole? No.
Most studies and statistics suggest that sending juveniles to adult prisons increases recidivism rates among those teens transferred. Jeffrey Fagan, who spearheaded an extensive study of juvenile offenders in New Jersey and New York, reported that not only are children sentenced as adults more likely to commit further crimes, they are more likely to be sexually assaulted while in prison, more likely to be beaten by guards, and more likely to be attacked with a weapon by fellow prisoners. This type of abuse decreases the chances for being rehabilitated, thus making those youths more dangerous to the community if and when they leave the system.
Statistics aside, sentencing a juvenile to adult time is hypocritical and morally objectionable. Recently, Lionel Tate, a 14-year-old Florida teen, was sentenced as an adult to life in prison for a murder he committed when he was 12 years old. Tate, in the eyes of the law, did not have the capacity to vote, to purchase adult products such as cigarettes and alcohol, or even to watch a PG-13 movie alone. Yet that same law claims that Tate had the capacity to fully understand the repercussions of his actions. If Tate had been convicted of shoplifting or another petty crime, prosecutors would have laughed at any suggestion of treating him as an adult. Does the nature of the crime itself, then, dictate the evaluation of a juvenile's mental capacity? Such aggressive and misguided prosecutions are in direct response to public anger toward the defendant, not necessarily motivated by what is in the best interests of justice. The inconsistency and hypocrisy in the treatment of juvenile offenders is unacceptable.
If treating violent juvenile offenders as adults is ineffective and morally objectionable, what can be done to curb this disturbing trend of...