Children or Adults: An Examination of the Juvenile Justice System

This research paper will discuss whether or not juveniles that commit violent crimes should be tried as an adult. Through research the author will establish an argument that children who commit the crimes of an adult should be punished as an adult. Empirical data detailing the number of juvenile offenders that are housed in adult prisons and jails as well as the number of prisoners serving life sentences that were earned by committing violent crimes before the age of 15 will be included in the manuscript. Finally, I suggest that children who commit crimes that are considered violent enough to even be considered for adult criminal court must in fact be tried in that very venue.

In this paper I will explore current scholarly thought to determine the effectiveness of trying juveniles as adults in a court of law. In extreme instances, juveniles of a broad range of age have committed violent crimes that the criminal justice system has deemed impossible to have been committed by the accepted frame of minds of juveniles. These juveniles were then tried in adult court and sentenced accordingly.
The purpose of my research is to examine juveniles who have been tried as adults and to discuss its strengths and weaknesses. I will analyze the information that I gather and will provide a strong case that this practice is appropriate.
Literature Review
Several authors address the issues surrounding juveniles who are tried as adults (Hudson, 2009; Mason, Chapman, Chang and Simons, 2003; Nunez, Tang 2003) Hudson (2009) emphasizes that with the hope of eventual release juvenile offenders will be more inclined to better themselves and gravitate towards rehabilitation while incarcerated.
Mason, Chapman, and Simon (2003) suggest that through education and training it is possible to influence the judicial system in a manner that increases the use of juvenile sanctions among youths transferred to adult court. This agrees with Hudson (2009) in the sense that juveniles exposed to sanctions such as therapy will be likely to receive lesser sentences in adult court, increasing their hope for release.

Nunez & Tang (2003) disagree with both Hudson (2009) and Mason, Chapman, & Simons (2003) with a study that shows that some jurors may lose neutrality when judging juveniles tried in adult courts thus leaving the sanctions utilized irrelevant and the length of sentences longer impeding the theory of hope presented by Hudson (2009).
Kupchik (2006) reports “More than 70 people are currently are serving life without the possibility of parole sentences for crimes they committed before age 15.” (p.271) He discusses the effectiveness of subjecting juveniles to the more rigid model of criminal court instead of the less formal and more flexible structure of juvenile court in order to reduce class and race bias. Kupchik determined this was not possible because the predominant offender in both courts were Black or Latino. He concluded that the current sequential model of juvenile justice should be rejected because it is not consistent with the opinion and perspective that the general public currently holds about this issue.
Houchins, Puckett-Patterson, Crosby, Shippen, and Jolivette (2009) compiled a list of barriers that prevent incarcerated youth from receiving a quality education. This study shows that these barriers are a significant factor working against juvenile offenders having a legitimate chance of staying out of the criminal justice system after being released.
Lewis (1988) and Witt (2003) agreeably compared the notion of trying a juvenile in an adult court versus the alternative option of intermediate sanctions. Both agreed that while the child’s mental state may suffer; a violent crime that would most likely be committed by an adult in any other instance should be adjudicated in an adult court.

McMahon and Payne (2001) as well as Yanich (1999) both call attention to the impact the media has on the image portrayed of juveniles who have committed violent crimes. McMahon and Payne discuss a case in England in which two adolescent boys murder a young girl. The boys are publicly scorned which should garner no surprise, but the latter part of the report details the young boys receiving fan mail from older women while they are incarcerated. Yanich discusses the rate on which juveniles who have committed a violent crime appear on the primetime news hour. It is understood that adult criminals are occasionally idolized by the public, but McMahon, Payne, and Yanich illustrate just how quickly juveniles are becoming lured into the world of criminal activity as if it is a Hollywood movie set.
As the purpose of my research is to examine juveniles who have been tried as adults and to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of this practice, I will suggest that have been adjudicated which sentenced juvenile adjudication in adult court is not necessarily an issue, but more of a flexible moral decision. Yet still a decision that must be made with the repercussions of a sentence that does not bode well with society in mind.
Sirens wale, coordinates are shared and the Bronx, NY police officers collar the pompous young men that just moments ago robbed a respectable grocery store. The young men twist and struggle, but are no match for the cold steel handcuffs that are now adorning their 17 year old wrists. The incident began when the two teenagers confidently walked into a Bronx area bodega and pulled a gun on the clerk. Thinking quickly the store worker closed the bullet-resistant glass that shrouded his work area and stood by to watch as the paranoid teens cried over there misfortune while the police arrived on scene.
This situation is fictional, there are not two boys terrorizing bodegas in the Bronx but this is exactly the type of story that could be on the local news at night. Across America juveniles are committing crimes that are more severe, dangerous and deadly and the crimes do not show any sign of stopping. The eras when crimes committed by juveniles were victimless and posed little or no threat to the social order of the community are long gone. According to Yanich (1999), almost one-third of all crimes shown on television were committed by juveniles, most of these stories were focused on violent crime (particularly murder), and that approximately 80% were covered during the first block of the newscast. This interest in the rise of violent juvenile offenses reinforces the necessity to re-evaluate the system in place and determine whether or not the system sufficiently accomplishes the task it is designed to complete.
Lewis (1995) stated that, “Psychosocial data regarding juvenile murderers is of great importance because it can help identify factors that put youngsters at risk for committing acts of violence.” (p.71) By this he meant that the data compiled by psychologist’s who analyzed juvenile murderers is important because it defined certain situations and influences that potentially trigger the violent acts committed. Hawkins & Lewis continue their analysis of why juvenile crimes occur and proceed to discuss that a juvenile who inhabits a poor home environment is a prominent risk factor in the genesis of violence, and that the majority of youths that commit homicide claim to have come from violent or disorganized families. It does not take much effort to understand what pushes juveniles over the edge and affords them the capability of committing violent crimes at such a young age. The factors that influence these juvenile offenders are often environmental, such risks as poverty and poor education are two of the most predominant reasons why juvenile violence occurs.
A story printed in the popular newspaper the Boston Globe discusses a Massachusetts state law passed in 1996 which mandated that offenders as young as 14 that are charged with murder must automatically be transferred to adult court, Fox (2007) This is extremely relevant because the results show the leeway that individual states possess when deciding whether or not to try a juvenile as an adult. Laws such as this one completely eliminate the controversy of deciding if the crime committed was worthy of being heard in adult court, and it would be no surprise if several other states join Massachusetts in their attempt to crack down on juvenile violence.
As mentioned earlier, Mason, Chapman and Simons (2003) as well as Nunez and Tang (2003) suggest that juveniles that are given the opportunity to participate in rehabilitative sanctions before adjudication in adult court often earn themselves lighter bids when sentencing is handed out. Sanctions such as psychological therapy and education are important factors that ultimately lead to successfully rehabilitated inmates. Sanctions are important not only because they offer an opportunity to work towards a lighter sentence, but also because through observation and therapy the court will have the chance to get to know the juvenile offender a little bit better which could have positive effects on sentencing.

It is no surprise that juveniles commit violent crimes just like adults, but the juvenile justice system must maintain vigilance in order to combat this growing trend of violent young offenders. It is the criminal justice systems job to bestow justice upon those who have committed a crime, no matter what age the person committing the crime was. In American culture though, the trend to allow juveniles a few extra strikes and will not seek the most extensive punishment that would be allowed for that particular crime. This is a practice that must be separated. It is agreed that juveniles who commit violent crimes such as murder are often too young to understand completely the ramifications of their actions. Yet it would not be fair to the victim or the victim’s family to allow the juvenile offender the opportunity to receive a lesser sentence than the crime usually carries. Juveniles that commit the crimes of adults should be punished as adults no matter the circumstances.

Houchins, D, Puckett-Patterson, D, Crosby, S, Shippen, M, & Jolivette, K. (2009). Barriers and facilitators to providing incarcerated youth with a quality education. Preventing School Failure, 53(3) pp. 13-27.
Hudson, D. (2009). Adult time for adult crimes. ABA Journal, 95(11), pp. 139-141.
Kupchik, A. (2006). Judging juveniles: prosecuting adolescents in adult and juvenile courts . New York University Press, pp. 243-4.
Lewis, L. (1988). Intrinsic and environmental characteristics of juvenile murderers.. American Academic Journal of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, 27(1), 582-587.
Mason, C, Chapman, D, Chang, S, & Simons, J. (2003). Impacting re-arrest rates among youth sentenced in adult court: an epidemiological examination of the juvenile sentencing advocacy act. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 32(2), pp.73.
McMahon, W, & Payne, L. (2001). Lessons from the bulger case. Children and Society, pp. 22-24.
Nunez, N, & Tang, C. (2003). Effect of defendant age and juror bias on judgement of culpability: what happens when a juvenile is tried as an adult?. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 28(1), pp. 239-251.
Yanich, D. (1999). Kids, crime and local TV news. Newark: Thomson Wadsworth.
Witt, P. (2003). Transfer of juveniles to adult court. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 9(3-4), pp. 2-4.