Should Juveniles be Bunished as Adults?



When it comes to individuals committing serious or harsh crimes, a sentence should match the crime that was committed. However, say this individual is under the age of 18. Should that make a difference in the amount of time they should serve, or should they serve any time at all? Based on age, states or locations, crimes committed and many other factors, we will discuss whether or not juveniles should be tried as adults. There are many arguments back and forth on whether or not a juvenile should be tried as an adult for their crimes. The two main reasons that are prosed for juveniles being tried as adults are that 1) the sentence should be proportional to their crime no matter the age and 2) the harsher or severe punishment will help lower juvenile crime rates. However, according to research juvenile crime rates have increased and the deterrent effects are minimal or almost non-existent. According to research and studies, a child’s brain does not fully develop until the age of 25. With this in mind, it brings up the question on whether or not the juvenile fully understands and grasp the concept of the crime they are committing. Countless juveniles are placed in prison and serving life without parole for crimes they committed before the age of 18. With research being done to see if this will drop the rates of juveniles committing crimes, the number increased instead of decreased. Which brings up the question, how can you punish a juvenile, while also helping decrease juvenile crime rate?

Should Juveniles be Punished as Adults?

Juvenile Delinquency Courts

In order to fully understand a juvenile court system and how they treat juveniles, the court system for juveniles will be broken down and showing what each section does. For instance, in a juvenile court, instead of being charged with a crime and having a criminal record, it will be known as a delinquent act instead. Also, a juvenile court is typically known as a civil matter and this is where they determine whether the minor is a delinquent (Michon, 2018).

In previous society times juveniles were treated as adults no matter what the crime committed was. However, this has since changed due to it being seen as unconstitutional and unfair treatment to a person under the age of 18. Due to it being seen as unconstitutional, this caused many people to raise the needs for a different court system for juveniles. The idea behind a juvenile court system would be to try helping them instead of automatically punishing them.

The first juvenile court to implement this action was set in Cook County, Illinois in 1899. This was different from adult court in the fact that instead of having a lawyer say they were guilty or not, it would decide on what type of help the juvenile needed. According to Cynthia H. Roberts, the court also differed in the fact that they handled two different types of juveniles, status offenders and a delinquent offender. A status offender is simply used as juvenile committing a crime that only juveniles can do, such as drinking alcohol or purchasing cigarettes. A delinquent offender is the opposite of a status offense in than juveniles are committing a crime that can cause them to be punished as adults such as robbery.

Juvenile Delinquency Influence

There are many contributing factors or influences to cause a juvenile to become a delinquent. From the community they live in, the people they are around, family, and even social media influences can play a key role in a juvenile becoming a delinquent. There community or where they grew is a key factor in whether they are a juvenile because their living situation could be harsh or full of criminal activity. According to Leyla Baysan Arabaci and Akduman, many children who become juveniles are those who have immigrated from various locations. This is due to the fact that many of those who are immigrants are minorities living subpar locations. Another important key factor of juveniles becoming a delinquent is their family. Growing up the juvenile learns and reciprocates the actions that they see adult figures in their life doing. For instance, if there are family problems or a lot of arguing, this will cause the juvenile to live a stressful and maybe even angry life because this is all they have experienced. Also, if the juvenile has experienced criminal activity growing up, the juvenile will not consider it criminal activity because they were constantly exposed to this lifestyle.

Negative Effects on Punishing Juveniles as Adults

There is a numerous amount of negative effects that correlate with juveniles being in prisons with adults. The most important is that they are denied an education even though there are state and federal laws stating that they have a right to an education. However, being placed in prison with adults lowers the chance of them receiving an education and increasing recidivism rates. Another important side effect of juveniles being in prison with adults is that they can become a victim of sexual victimization. When it comes to juveniles being incarcerated with adults, “children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities” (Caitlyn Curley, 2016).

There are also many concerns surround the fact that sentencing juveniles as adults is viewed as cruel and unusual punishment, which violates the eighth amendment. This was seen after two court cases, Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama, which both stated life in prison without parole is unconstitutional. It is also seen as unconstitutional because instead of gaining access to education and rehabilitation treatments like other juveniles, they are stuck in jail or prison with adults. When it comes to violating the eighth amendment, there are two types that are seen which the death penalty and life imprisonment without parole is.

Research on Juvenile Delinquency Treatment

There has been a tremendous amount of research on what the best treatment for juvenile should be to lower the rate of recidivism. One of the main points mentioned was to “implement interventions to keep juvenile offenders in the community rather than sending them to be incarcerated (Billick, May, Osmond, 2014). This was aimed to help lower recidivism rates because it is has been observed that sending a juvenile straight to incarceration has an effect on their brain in a negative way. Another highly researched method to help treat juvenile delinquents is Multisystemic Therapy or MST. MST is typically used for juveniles who commit a more serious crime compared to those commit a status offense. MST is similar to having the juvenile help around the community, but it also adds the extra step of “intensive intervention”. Research has shown that juveniles who were apart of MST helped dramatically reduced the rate of recidivism (Billick, May, Osmond, 2014).

However, there have been varying research on whether there are downfalls to juveniles being tried as adults. For instance, criminologists Simon Singer and David McDowell also conducted a research in New York over the time span of ten years to determine if sentencing juveniles as adults would help lower the recidivism rate. They analyzed juveniles records and what they were arrested for in New York and then compared those records to the control group of juveniles in Philadelphia. The results that were found showed there was little to no difference in sentencing juveniles as adults. Social scientists Linda Metsger and Eric Jensen also conducted a study and received related results to Singer and McDowell. However, their research they were evaluating deterrent effects on juveniles charged with serious crimes and being tried as adults in Idaho.

Mental Illness

Juveniles who are placed into corrections or jail with adults are still developing mentally, however it is more challenging when the juvenile has a mental illness. Mental illness is considered to be a serious issue among juveniles as well as race. According to research conducted by R. Borum, J. Chapman, R. Desai, and P. Falzer (2012), minors who have a mental disorder leads to having a high rate of criminal activity.


In order to fully understand whether or not treating a juvenile like a adult will make a difference, a study will be conducted to comprehend what happens. This study is being conducted because I want to see what differences will come up and will this affect the juvenile mentally or physically in any way. One important process or the independent part of the study is to have 100 juveniles who have committed the same crime throughout different states. The dependent study is to have one group of forty juveniles be sentenced as adults for their crime, while having forty more juveniles be sentenced as juveniles. The remaining twenty will not face a charge at all. I will be able to keep track and record the observations of each juvenile by having them write journal entries once a week to grasp how their brain is functioning depending their situation.

To further help and determine whether the question asked at the beginning of the paper, there will be a few different methods used. The methods that will be used are individual interviews, family interviews, reviewing statistics of crimes committed by juveniles, and reviewing the effect of treatments to help juveniles.

In an individual interview, I will formulate a few questions to ask juveniles as well as security officers on what they observe or what they go through. These questions can help determine what led them to commit these crimes or their childhood growing up. As for the security officers, questions surrounding what they observe with juveniles will be asked to help see if there is a pattern with juveniles.

The second type of interview that will be used is family interviews. This will also be a questionnaire, however instead of formulating questions for the juvenile it will be for the parents or guardians instead. Questions along the lines of how the juvenile was as a child and how they were in school will be asked to help gather a perspective on the juvenile. A sample question would ask “How was the juvenile in school and were there ever any problems with other students and the teacher?” By obtaining this information on how they were in school and at home, it could possibly help determine what could have led them to lean towards criminal activity.

The most important aspect would be to review and research on the official statistics of juveniles who are committing crimes, whether status offenses or delinquent offenders. The research would cover the types of crimes committed, the location of the highest criminal activity for juveniles, the punishment for the crime, as well as the ethnicity of those committing the crimes. The types of crime would help categorize whether the crimes being committed are status offenses or delinquent offenders, and which is being committed the most. The location of crimes being committed by juveniles will help determine whether more treatments or rehabilitation efforts need to be implemented to help lower the crime rate as well as lower the recidivism rate. The punishment or treatment being used on juveniles is a crucial piece of this research as well because instead of punishing the juveniles with jail time, it will be necessary to investigate the effects of how therapy or group sessions help, as well as community service to see how it will affect recidivism. Lastly, the ethnicity of those who commit these crimes can help show the background of that person and where they come from. It will also help determine whether the juveniles come from a poor or rich background and the type of neighborhood they live in.

By reviewing the different treatments and how they effect juvenile, there is a lower chance for recidivism if the juvenile are kept around those around their age as well as keeping them in the community and involving therapy. Therapy played a key role in helping rehabilitate juveniles because many of them lean to committing crimes because of family or peer pressure. Therapy allows them to talk about their problems, whether it may be mental or anger issues, it allows for them to find other alternatives to turn to instead of criminal activity. By incorporating therapy and community work, the rate of recidivism will go down, compared to those who are sentenced and treated as adults. Juveniles who are treated as adults, typically have a higher recidivism rate as well as a criminal record. While on the other hand, juveniles who are treated as minors have a lower recidivism and do not have a criminal record. This makes it easier for the juvenile to turn their life around and make better decisions. Which in conclusion, leans towards the decision that juveniles should not be punished the same as adults.

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