Monday, 31 October 2011

Minors in Prison

A mother watches her child playing outside the window of their home. Never would she imagine that her child would be taken away from her, causing her to be forced to watch him through a different type of window. Her young child is now forced to live a life in an atrocious place with terrible people. One childish mistake, a bad choice made by a psychologically disadvantaged youth lands him in a place he does not belong. Adolescents are old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, but too young to have the brain capacity and maturity to make the right choices. There have been children as young as thirteen tried as adults and sentenced to die in prison (“Cruel and Unusual”). An adolescent should never be given an adult sentence in an adult penitentiary, but statistics show that 2,381 juveniles are serving a life sentence without possibility of parole in the United States (“One Strike”). There are many better ways to handle these situations other than putting a child somewhere the child does NOT belong. Politics can be stated as “who gets what, when and how.” Instead of being put in prisons where they will only learn worse things and be opened up to more violence, rape, STDs and other horrible things, minors need to get and require a facility where they can thrive and become young men and women who can benefit society. The reform of how we process minors needs to happen soon and be accomplished through the reform of our judicial system.
According to a CNN news reporter, the United States is the only country that allows juveniles to be given a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole. This is atrocious for many reasons. Our morals as a country must be depreciating. Minors’ brains are not fully developed. The regions involved in emotion and cognition, such as the region anticipating future consequences of a decision do not develop until the mid to late twenties (Steinbeck). If we do not trust minors to drink, smoke, or drive during these young ages, then why do we expect them to be held responsible for a decision they have made. Just because the child knows the difference between right and wrong, it still does not change the fact that psychologically their brains are not developed enough for minors to be held responsible for their actions. The late-maturing- frontal lobes help account for teen impulsivity (Myers). When a child is being tried for murder, the case automatically starts out in an adult court. This does not make sense. If a juvenile did the crime, then a juvenile court should process, prosecute, and pick the time. Putting our children in prison will only make them worse. They are going to learn even more harmful ways and “tricks of the trade” from a more diverse adult community. Being exposed at such a young age makes them more vulnerable to their surroundings. Adolescence is typically a time of diminishing parental influence and growing peer influence (Myers). They will begin to be abused and hurt physically, sexually, and mentally. All of the abuses that will be obtained in an adult prison and put upon a minor would have drastic effects on their brain and mental state. They will turn into true murderers, killers, and rapists. Instead of getting better, realizing their mistake and moving on with life someday, they will get worse.
There are others out there that disagree entirely with this argument. They believe that minors should be processed through the adult court systems and that they deserve the life sentencing that they have been given. Although a minor in prison is a horrible result, in some circumstances that horrible result is the best we can have (Sharp). Others simply say that it is ok because jurors have deemed it appropriate (“One Strike”). The main argument these people have provided shows evidence that if one day we do allow these children to be released from prison, it poses a greater risk to society. They believe that the children will not have changed and they will end up hurting someone or committing another crime against society. According to Dudley Sharp, three things can happen with children that are sent to prison. They can stay the same, get worse, or possibly get better. He uses the statistics showing that two out of three of these possibilities are bad. Sharp argues that because this shows that two out of three is bad, then it is a greater possibility that these children will get out and not be better functioning members of society.
This is where the second part of the argument comes into play. We have already established the psychological truths behind an adolescent and how they are not mature enough to be held responsible for their actions. We now must realize that it is our responsibility to help these children grow into mature adults that can make the right choices and choose to be a standing part of society. The United States prison system is not a rehabilitating system, which is what these juveniles need. Young humans can change and do change not only in the obvious physical ways, but also internally through brain growth, hormones and chemicals that are released throughout the body at different stages of an individual’s life. We must realize that we need to change how we treat and process minors that commit an “adult” crime. They need to be put in a facility that can help them to be the best they can be, and to help them grow. They should be put in a system that helps them learn to interact with others the correct way, along with a system that will keep them learning and continue to give them an education. Without an education these young men and women will be forced to turn back to violence or illegal activities to survive. If we teach them to love others, live on their own, and have a skilled trade or profession, these children will be so much more likely to be active good members of society. We need the help of politics! The government needs to step in and say “enough is enough.” The United States needs to reform its system and the way they process minors no matter what their crime was. If in the end an adolescent truly cannot pass a psychological test saying they are fit to enter society, it does not mean that they belong in prison; it means they truly have something wrong with their psyche and they belong in a psych ward, not a prison where their condition will worsen.
A mother’s love for her child does not change because of crazy incidences and horrible mistakes. A mother’s love is instinctual, unconditional, and forever. As a society there needs to be an awakening to the horrible practices we are having when we send a minor to prison. They are brought into a world of worse fears than they could ever imagine. They will be turned into sex puppets, given diseases, used, abused, and forever changed. AIDS has become the world’s fourth leading cause of death (Myers). These children are being exposed to all this harm. Instead of being put into a torturous place they do not belong, they need to be put into a facility that can help treat them and change them into what they need to be. A minor should never be put into prison or given an “adult” prison sentence. They deserve our attention. As citizens of the United States something must be done. We need to become active actors in our political system. Opening our eyes to reality we need to fight for our children to be processed under juvenile court and rehabilitated, not stuck in prison to waste away.

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