Juveniles should not be Tried as Adults
On May 26, 2000, Nathaniel Brazill shot and killed his seventh grade, English teacher at Lake Worth Middle School with a .25 caliber handgun. As a result, he was tried as an adult and sentenced to a state prison for 28 years. Now, if a person was to hear a story like this, they would probably say “Thank god they put that psychotic kid away”, and would not question the reasons why he shot his teacher “We’ve created the image that teenagers are something to be feared” states Dan Macallair of the Center on Juvenile justice in San Francisco.
All we know about Nathaniel Brazill was that he was in the seventh grade, he had somehow acquired a handgun, and he shot his teacher. On the other hand, what we don’t know is why he killed his teacher, what was the state of his mental health, and what was his home environment like. Although this isn’t to say that what he did was ok, all it would ask is, did he get a fair trial and can he learn from his mistakes if he is charged as an adult. I mean in the end isn’t he just a kid right?
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As a society, we tend to acknowledge that kids, below the age eighteen, can’t and don’t operate as adults, that’s why the law takes special steps to shield kids from the implications of their actions, and infrequently seeks to ameliorate the damages caused once kids make wrong decisions, by giving them a second chance. The law prohibits individuals below eighteen from voting, serving within the military, and a plethora of other things, however in some states, they’ll be hanged for crimes they committed before they reach adulthood.
According to ACLU, the US Supreme Court prohibits execution for crimes committed at the age of fifteen or younger. Nineteen states have laws allowing the execution of a person that committed crimes at sixteen or seventeen. Since 1973, 226 juvenile death sentences were imposed on these poor teens. To this day, according to ACLU, there have been twenty-two juvenile offenders who are dead and eighty-two who are still on death row.
In the article, “”Juveniles Don’t Deserve Life Sentence”” by the author and juvenile court judge, Gail Garinger, he explains why he believes, kids should not get sentenced to life in prison and tried as an adult. Approximately seventy-nine young adolescents have been sentenced to die in prison nationwide. These teenagers should not be judged by their crime first but rather the scenario, because there’s always three sides to a story that the judge needs to hear. These include the victim’s point of view, the teens’ point of view, and the truth of the whole situation.
When giving a person a sentencing in general, the court system needs to take into consideration the age, mental state, and who the person committing the crime is as a person. Deciding on whether or not to make the life sentence applicable to minors should depend on the specific situation. Everybody makes mistakes and it is not fair that in some cases the judges do not take the child’s life into consideration.
Some of these teens can change their lives completely if the court system gives them a second chance and gives them a minor punishment so they can learn their lesson from the whole situation. Garinger also states in the article that young people are biologically different than adults meaning that their minds are not fully developed to be trialed in court as an adult.
While adolescents can be held accountable for their actions, scientific information demonstrates that they can not fairly be held accountable to the same extent as adults. Studies by the Harvard Medical School, the National Institute of Mental Health and the UCLA’s Department of Neuroscience finds that the frontal and prefrontal lobes of the brain, which regulate impulse control and judgment, are not fully developed in adolescents. These findings confirm that adolescents generally have a greater tendency towards impulsivity, making unsound judgments or reasoning, and are less aware of the consequences of their actions.
Structurally the brain continues to be growing and maturing throughout adolescence, starting its final stages at sixteen or seventeen. Some researchers say that growth maxes out at age twenty. Others, like Jay Giedd of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, contemplate whether twenty-five is the age at that brain maturation peaks. Various forms of brain scans and anatomic dissections show that as teens age, disordered-looking neuron cell bodies called substantia grisea recede, and neuron projections lined in a very protecting fatty sheath, known as substantia alba, take over.
In 1999, Giedd and colleagues showed that just before puberty, kids have a growth spurt of substantia grisea. This is followed by huge “pruning” within which about one hundred forty-five of substantia grisea is pared down every year during the kid’s years, while the overall volume of substantia alba ramps up. This method is believed to form the brain’s neural connections for adulthood, based on experience. Not just that but according to Giedd the prefrontal cortex which controls impulse and reasoning also grows with the substantia grisea.
A study done in 2001 at the University of California Los Angeles, states quite a few hypotheses, that have been postulated for why juveniles may engage in impulsive and risky behaviors. Accounts of Juvenile trials suggest that it is a period of development associated with progressively greater efficiency of cognitive control capacities.
This efficiency in cognitive control is described as dependent on maturation of the prefrontal cortex which has yet to mature. This basic function controls reasoning and emotions. Improved cognitive control with the development of the prefrontal cortex is consistent with an increase in this ability from childhood to adulthood. Without proper cognitive function, a person can make a stupid mistake without thinking of the consequence.
“Culpability of juveniles and whether their brains are as capable of impulse control, decision-making, and reasoning as adult brains are,” is what should be focused on when you try a child as an adult states law professor Steven Drizin of Northwestern University in Chicago. And to answer whether or not a juvenile has the same capable impulse control and decision making as an adult brain does the answer is no. The brain’s prefrontal cortex, which allows restraint over hasty behavior, “doesn’t begin to mature until 17 years of age,” states Ruben Gur of the University of Pennsylvania. The very part of the brain that is judged by the legal system process comes on board late.
“Choices and actions observed during adolescence represent an inflection in development that is unique from either childhood or adulthood” stated by the National Center for Health Statistics on juvenile behavior and mortality. If cognitive control and an immature prefrontal cortex were the basis for bad choice behavior alone, then children should look remarkably similar or presumably worse than adolescents, This alone proves that a kid is a kid, because a kid does not think, they act with their emotions.
But I do understand how hard it would be to link the changes in the teenage brain, with legal or moral accountability is tough. Paul Thompson a professor of neurology claimed: “Even though normal teens are experiencing a wildfire of tissue loss in their brains, that does not remove their accountability.”(Paul Thompson) What we can infer from this is that there are parts of the frontal lobes that allows reckless actions to restructure themselves with startling speed in the teen years. With this information on teen brains we can see that teens need all the help they can get to steer onto the right path in these very difficult times.
Even though there seems to be a lot of facts of why an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex in teens should allow them a certain amount of leniency, some people believe that even though an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex may limit reasoning it still does not erase accountability toward those crimes. For example, Jennifer Jenkins, President of the National Organization of Victims of ‘Juvenile Lifers wrote an article called “Punishment on Teen Killers”. She argues that brain development is not the reason why teens commit violent crimes.
She is also against advocates that are against juvenile life without parole or JLWOP. She also believes that these kids know full well what they are doing and should not have any leniency because of their age. It is important to keep the teenage brains in mind when we as a society decide how poor decisions should be punished.”If brain development were the reason, then teens would kill at roughly the same rates all over the world. They do not. Advocates often repeat, but truly misunderstand brain research on this issue.”(Jenkins) But maybe it’s not the most important factor in how those decisions get made in the first place. For example, one’s economic standing and home life and life may be a reason to turn to crime.
The results of a new study by Mike Males from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice support the argument that teenage poverty, and teenage biology, is most to blame for teenage crime. Males looked into more than 50,000 homicides in California from 1991 to 2002. As one would expect, teenagers perpetrated more of the homicides than other age groups, but only when he did not control for poverty. When he did control for poverty, teenagers committed more crimes than other age groups only in high-poverty areas.
In the areas where teenagers had as much money as other middle-aged people, they tended to commit fewer violent crimes. And in the areas where middle-aged people had as little money as other teenagers, those middle-aged people tended to commit just as many violent crimes. In other words, financially secure teens act as responsibly as stereotypical middle-aged people; and poor middle-aged people act as recklessly as stereotypical teens.
The financial situations of the would-be perpetrators had a lot bigger impact than what age they were at the time. And that impact was huge: The homicide rate among the poorest teenagers Males looked at was eighteen times higher than it was among the wealthiest. We can infer that when teenagers are stressing about the money they will try something reckless in order to become financially sound.
Economic standing is not the only other factor to why juveniles go into a life of crime it is also caused by problems at home. Teenagers need their peer’s love, affection and care more than anything else. Cholee Clay, a person working in Criminal justice and volunteers in juvenile group homes states neglected teens are more prone to become criminals, as the lack of love and affection they feel they deserved from the family makes them angry and violent. They channelize their negative energy in committing crimes.
Some new research suggests an association between childhood abuse and later involvement in delinquency. A study done by Carolyn Smith and Terence P. Thornberry, both professors of Criminal Justice, examines this issue using official and selfreport data from the Rochester teens Development Study. This analysis addresses three central issues: the significance of the relationship between early child abuse and later delinquency, official and selfreported; the possibility of spuriousness in this relationship; and the impact of more extensive measurement of abuse on later delinquency. “A significant relationship between child abuse and selfreported and official delinquency is found and this relationship.”(Smith) Especially for more serious forms of delinquency, remains when controlling for other factors.
As a result, we can see that the more extensive the abuse is, the higher the rates are for delinquency. “Of these reports, about one in four, or 9.2 per 1,000 children, are substantiated for abuse or neglect perpetrated by a caregiver” (Barboza). This elevated rate of proof is alarming given previous research showing that children who experience abuse and neglect have an increased risk of poor behavioral outcomes, such as externalizing and internalizing behavior and juvenile delinquency, and are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system
As one can see juvenile crimes are not solely based on the brain’s prefrontal cortex is underdeveloped, it is also based on the idea that each child has their own reasons why they do a certain act. Maybe because they aren’t financially sound or they are being abused at home, everyone has their own problems. And while it seems that trying these juveniles as adults and sending them to prison may seem like a logical choice when because of their actions this may not be a good idea, because of how harsh of an environment it is.
The majority of teens tried as an adult are charged with nonviolent offenses. The law states that teens transferred from juvenile facilities to the adult system must be separated by sight and sound from adult inmates, but in many states, their has been a refusal to comply with these laws or that they will agree to this law but will inevitably stall on this progress. There are many laws granting all juveniles the right to education, which apply to juveniles in correctional facilities, however, many teens housed in adult facilities do not have access to any form of education.
A 2005 survey of adult facilities by the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act found that forty percent of the jails and prisons had no educational services at all. In Addition, the “Individuals with Disabilities Act” requires that incarcerated teens with learning disabilities and other mental disorders be granted education that serves individual needs and prepares students for college, employment and independent living. But also found by the same survey, that only eleven percent of correctional facilities provided special education services and only seven percent actually provided vocational training.
The issue goes far beyond a denial of education and other much needed rehabilitative services. teens in these adult systems are at extreme risk for sexual victimization, more than “any other group of incarcerated persons”, according to the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. And the Prison “Rape Elimination Act” of 2003 claimed that children are more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities, usually within the first 48 hours of their incarceration.
Furthermore, teens in these adult prisons are subject to mental harm and have less psychiatric help services available to them compared to an average juvenile detention center. And with the still harmful effects of solitary confinement, many juveniles are placed in isolation, which can severely harm or even cause mental disorders that have the potential to affect them for the rest of their lives. And tragically according to Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act thirty six percent more likely to commit suicide.