Monday, 10 October 2011

Jail for Kids Who Commit Adult Crimes?

Juvenile defendants


Lauren Fritsky's

Some of us committed some sort of crime in our youth. Maybe it was stealing candy from a store. Or stealing your dad's Mustang to go on a age 14.

Whatever it was, maybe you got a grounding or some privileges revoked, and that's all she wrote. You grew up to be a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen (or so we hope).

But there's another category of youthful degenerates who do bad enough things to warrant serious jail time (these are the kids you probably see on Maury or Springer). However, they're still kids. The question -- is it fair to make a kid serve adult time for a crime instead of sending him to the more rehabilitative juvenile system?

For a while, judges were content to lock up these youths and throw away the key. But now some states are revisiting the idea of grown-up jail sentences for minors. Connecticut, for instance, earlier this month raised the age at which a juvenile is automatically prosecuted as an adult from 16 to 17. North Carolina is trying to raise the age from 16 to 18. Child "advocates" claim the juvenile system offers more rehabilitative programs and schooling, which may be more in line with what young offenders need. The Supreme Court is also exploring whether juveniles can be sentenced to life without parole for crimes other than murder, such as rape.

Now, kids can be crafty creatures, as any parent of an adolescent could attest to. But for all their guile and angst, some researchers maintain that their brains ain't like adults, and therefore, they don't really know what they're doing when they do things like hot-wire cars and mug little old ladies.

One of the cases for reconsidering adult penalties for teens is research on the adolescent brain showing that juveniles lack control and understanding of long-term consequences and give in more to peer pressure that can lead to criminal activities. The rationale is that the same kid might not be as prone to commit offenses as an adult.

Maybe...but that really sounds ridiculous. No one is holding a gun to these kids' heads when they break the law. A kid who is old enough to commit the crime in the first place should face the consequences of his or her actions, not a slap on the wrist.

And about all that "rehabilitation" kids can get in the juvenile system? Well, the truth is, some criminals are unable to be rehabilitated, even at a young age. One of the country's most notorious criminals, Charles Manson, was institutionalized and jailed on and off from the time he was a kid. Upon his release back into society in his 30s, he picked up right where he left off and ended up being responsible for at least seven murders in the 1960s. FAIL.

So, despite their short statures and squeaky voices, preteens and adolescents who do adult things should pay the adult price. That, not being coddled by therapists and social workers, is what might give them a serious chance at becoming upstanding adults.

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