Should juveniles be tried as adults?


The criminal justice systems in various countries identify the need to apply a different court system to juveniles and adults. Even though the U.S acknowledges this need too, it is the only country in the world where the justice system exempts some juveniles from the juvenile court system and subjects them to trial as adults. It is the only country where children are sentenced to death or life imprisonment. Arguments have been for exposing children to adult trials based on the ideas that the adult court system is more effective in deterring crimes and that the juvenile court systems do not offer punishments befitting some crimes committed by children or adolescents (Adams & Addie, 2013, p. 05). While this is true to a certain extent, the dangers of exposing juveniles to adult court systems are very severe and cannot be overlooked. Not under any circumstance should juveniles be tried as adults because the adult court system does not offer many rehabilitation opportunities, increasing both life and recidivism risks and limiting the options for sentencing the juveniles.

Fewer Rehabilitation Opportunities

The first reason juveniles should not be tried as adults is that the adult court system does not offer the rehabilitation opportunities required by adolescents and children. When discussions on comparison between the adult court system and juvenile court system are held, most people always cite the severity of punishment in the adult court system as too extreme compared to the juvenile court (Kruh et al., 2005, p. 74). It is because the adult court system focuses on the crime and befitting punishment, unlike the juvenile court system, that sees an individual and the risk factors. In juvenile courts, a child or adolescent is not referred to as an offender but as a delinquent. In this case, the attention is placed not on the punishment but on ensuring the child or adolescent can get back on the right track and continue with their lives. The juvenile system ensures the children continue their education or training within the institution. These advantages cannot be accorded to the children who are tried as adults and, as a result, end up missing the opportunity to have a fresh start (Semple & Woody, 2011, p. 302). The adult court system does not offer beneficial rehabilitation opportunities to juveniles, and in the end, the juveniles turn out with high recidivism rates.

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The Element of Risk

The second reason is based on the fact that adult prisons or jails create an element of risk for children and adolescents. Children mostly commit crimes as one-time mistakes or for self-defense (Miner, 2002, p. 423). Even though some are intentional, most do not have the right mind to make informed decisions at the time of the crime and can get better with some assistance. When these children are tried in adult courts, all their chances at rehabilitation are gone, and they are exposed to the dangers associated with adult jails. According to studies conducted in previous years on the dangers of adult jails, more than 90% of the offenders in adult correctional facilities were at risk of physical abuse. Other types of abuse include sexual and emotional. Exposing a child or adolescent who just committed one crime to the dangers of adult prisons can drive them to the edge (Miner, 2002, p. 428). They can learn to defend themselves violently or cling to the wrong groups in search of protection. In the worst cases, they end up killing someone, committing suicide or being killed by other inmates. The situation in adult jails is too extreme for juveniles because, besides the exposure to cruelty and abuse from inmates, some correctional officers, especially those with the tendency to abuse, can target the juveniles.  A character is developed after exposure to the different types of abuse, making it challenging for the child or adolescent to reintegrate into the community and increasing their chances of becoming repeat offenders.

Options for Sentencing Juveniles

Another important reason juveniles should not be tried as adults is that the adult court system limits the number of options for sentencing. The juvenile court system works based on the idea of being corrective. They are designed to help the children correct their behaviors and get on the right track. The system offers a wide range of rehabilitation strategies based on the child’s needs and age (Semple & Woody, 2011, p. 305). For others, the best corrective measures are achieved through curfews, treatment in residential programs, counseling or house arrest, while others are arrested and taken to juvenile prisons. The best method of administering the punishment and rehabilitation method is based on the age, the extent of help the child needs, and the time required. All these are lost when a juvenile is tried in an adult court system because they are subjected to mandatory sentencing guidelines that require a punishment matching the crime (Walker & Woody, 2011, p.671). The adult justice system is more like a one-size-fits-all system and does not offer chances for other rehabilitation methods. This system is very detrimental to the juvenile’s rehabilitation process.

The criminal justice systems are always focused on corrective measures, offering second chances to the offenders to be part of the community while also giving them befitting punishments for their crimes. However, the sentencing of juveniles as adults has raised a lot of discussions. While some see it as a perfect way to prevent recidivism and reduce crime rates, others have argued that it is more severe and lacks rehabilitation. Based on their arguments, sentencing juveniles in adult courts denies them the opportunities for rehabilitation, exposes them to risks associated with adult jails and limits the options for sentencing necessary for reducing crime rates among juveniles.

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  1. Adams, B., & Addie, S. (2013). Juveniles tried as adults. The Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 1-8.
  2. Kruh, I. P., Frick, P. J., & Clements, C. B. (2005). Undefined. Criminal Justice and Behavior32(1), 69-96.
  3. Miner, M. H. (2002). Factors associated with recidivism in juveniles: An analysis of serious juvenile sex offenders. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency39(4), 421-436.
  4. Semple, J. K., & Woody, W. D. (2011). Juveniles tried as adults: The age of the juvenile matters. Psychological Reports109(1), 301-308.
  5. Walker, C. M., & Woody, W. D. (2011). Juror decision making for juveniles tried as adults: The effects of defendant age, crime type, and crime outcome. Psychology, Crime & Law17(8), 659-675.
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