Teenager in handcuffs

Teenagers Should Not be Tried as Adults

On any given day, there are approximately 10,000 juveniles in adult prisons or jails. Roughly 250,000 teenagers are tried as adults every year. Do teenagers deserve to be treated as adults in the courtroom? No. Teenagers are not ready for adult prisons and adult trials for them are unwarranted.

In the 1966 case, Kent v. United States, Morris Kent, a 16-year-old, was tried as an adult for three home burglaries, three robberies, and two counts of rape. Kent fought against the juvenile court’s waiver to have him tried as an adult. The court sided with Kent in his specific case, but they also agreed that teenagers can be tried as adults.

Recidivism has been proven to be higher in teenagers who are tried as adults than in teenagers who are tried in juvenile courts. A study done by the CDC found that “in Florida, youths sent to the adult system had 34 percent more felony rearrest than those retained as juveniles.” Teenagers tried as adults do not have access to counseling and education that teenagers in juvenile courts have. They cannot develop and are put in danger, daily, just from being around potential murderers, rapists, and other offenders.

Teenagers do not have a fully developed brain. The human brain continues development until the age of 25-26. According to the BBC, “Neuroscience has shown that… cognitive development continues… and that their emotional maturity, self-image and judgement will be affected until the prefrontal cortex of the brain has fully developed.” Not having a fully developed brain does not absolve someone from their crime, but treating teenagers like they fully understand consequences and have a solid level of self-control is dishonest. Would you want to be held responsible for the actions or activities you did at the ages of 15, 16, 17? The amount of emotional, and even physical, change a teenager goes through in adolescence is staggering.

The idea that “evil” people cannot change is good on paper, but fails to hold, in actuality. Criminals can be rehabilitated, however, the current state of prison systems seems to prefer punishment over rehabilitation. In the United States, 7/10 of inmates return to prison within three years. In Nordic countries, where rehabilitation is given a larger role in prisons, the recidivism rate is between 20-40 percent.  

The death penalty has been off the table for juvenile offenders, and we should continue progressing. It’s imperative that the efficacy of trying teens as adults be reevaluated by the government and we need to take steps to rehabilitate teens back into society, instead of putting them into what is essentially a cage.

Works Cited

The New York Times, The New York Times, archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/learning/teachers/featured_articles/20080915monday.html.

“Adult System Worsens Juvenile Recidivism, Report Says.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 30 Nov. 2007, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/29/AR2007112901936.html.

Bishop, Donna M., et al. “The Transfer of Juveniles to Criminal Court: Does It Make a Difference?” Crime & Delinquency, vol. 42, no. 2, 1996, pp. 171–191., doi:10.1177/0011128796042002001.

“Juveniles Tried As Adults: What Happens When Children Go to Prison.” [FKD], [FKD], 11 Nov. 2016, www.genfkd.org/juveniles-tried-adults-happens-children-go-prison.

Lind, Dara. “Charging Teens as Adults Makes Everyone Less Safe.” Vox.com, Vox Media, 22 May 2014, www.vox.com/2014/5/22/5740168/charging-teenagers-as-adults-direct-file-safety-recidivism-juvenile-justice.

Lind, Dara. “Teenagers in Prison Have a Shockingly High Suicide Rate.” Vox.com, Vox Media, 17 June 2015, www.vox.com/2014/10/10/6957497/suicide-prison-rate-juvenile-teenager-prisoners.

“Should Juveniles Be Charged as Adults in the Criminal Justice System?”, www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/childrens-rights/articles/2016/should-juveniles-be-charged-as-adults/.

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