Teens shouldn’t be treated as adults

In recent years, increasing numbers of states have taken actions that allow juvenile offenders to be tried as adults in the justice system. This growing trend only serves to severely damage children without a corresponding decrease in crime.
Currently, more than 40 states have laws lowering the juvenile cutoff point for individuals who commit certain crimes. Most have reset the age at 16 or 17, but a few states have lowered the level to 14. While, in some states, only those who commit violent crimes are affected, in others any felony is enough to have a 16-year-old thrown into prison with adult offenders.
Our prison system has two goals: deterrence and rehabilitation. A system that carries tiny penalties will not serve the first function; one that carries extremely harsh penalties will not serve the second. Placing juvenile offenders in adult prisons might theoretically serve as a deterrent, but little data supports that claim. Sentencing juveniles to adult sentences is probably the worst possible means of rehabilitation. Teenagers placed in prison with adults generally suffer horrific outcomes. Frequently raped and beaten, they become increasingly alienated from general society, and if they learn anything in prison, it is only how to become a more effective criminal.
On the other hand, the juvenile justice system, while not perfect, offers offenders counseling and a significantly safer environment. It also provides staff specially trained to deal with juvenile offenders. Adult prisons offer few specialized services for juveniles who end up there.
Juvenile justice systems were originally created out of the realization that the motivations behind teenagers’ crimes were very different than those of adult offenders. To suggest that individuals who commit violent crimes somehow stop being a young and confused teenager is foolish. There is no reason the laws could not be changed so that rather than being tried as an adult, an individual convicted of a violent crime in juvenile court could later be transferred to an adult facility or forced to serve a long sentence. Unfortunately, these possibilities are being ignored by legislators.
Individuals convicted under the adult justice system also do not have their records expunged, which means one childhood mistake will haunt the perpetrator for his entire life. While violent offenders should obviously suffer serious consequences for their actions, branding a 17-year-old for life as a violent criminal will not only reduce her chances of getting a job when she is released from prison, but will also diminish her incentives to work toward becoming a productive member of society.
Advocates of these laws often refer to boys like Kip Kinkel, who killed his parents and two students. However, these same advocates ignore the vast numbers of juveniles whose lives will be severely damaged by these laws. Many laws simply list crimes that automatically place perpetrators into the adult system. Frequently, the individuals affected by these laws are not killers but basically decent teenagers who make one very stupid mistake. Juveniles who commit crimes should suffer serious consequences. However, placing teenagers in adult prisons serves no one and further damages already troubled youngsters.