While youths under age 18 typically experience less severe penalties for committing crimes, some extreme offenses like murder and rape can lead juvenile court judges to try juveniles as adults. In California, minors as young as 14 can be tried as adults at a judge’s discretion. However, mounting evidence suggests this approach is harmful and ineffective.
What Are the Adverse Effects of Trying Juveniles as Adults?
Traditionally, our nation’s juvenile justice system has largely focused on rehabilitating young offenders, helping those who may have problematic home lives or are emotionally troubled. In juvenile detention centers, young people have access to various developmental and mental health programs, including counseling to help with issues like substance abuse.
In contrast, the adult criminal justice system is primarily punitive – offering few, if any, educational or rehabilitative services for inmates. Youth prosecuted in the adult system may witness violence and be victimized by older inmates, causing long-term psychological damage. Additionally, criminal records resulting from adult convictions can limit a young person’s future educational and career opportunities.
While imprisonment intends to deter people from committing future crimes, treating juveniles as adults has the opposite effect. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, rearrest rates for young people within a year of release from a detention facility average 55%.
Biases in the Justice System
The practice of trying juveniles as adults also reflects racial biases at every stage of the process. People of color are overrepresented throughout our nation’s justice system, including juvenile court. Nationally, Black youth are five times more likely to be detained or confined than white juveniles, Indigenous juveniles are three times more likely and Latino youth are roughly two times more likely. These rates remain consistent even when the crimes committed by whites and people of color are identical.
Developmental Differences Between Juveniles and Adults
Another reason it’s unfair to try juveniles as adults is that teens are prone to make irrational, emotion-based decisions. Due to factors like peer pressure and emotional immaturity, young men and women might engage in increasingly risky behaviors as they go through puberty and test the boundaries adults have placed on them.
Though children’s brains are nearly fully grown by age 5, that does not mean they are finished developing. The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for skills like planning and impulse control, is one of the last areas to mature. As a result, teens may be more willing to do dangerous or illegal things without stopping to consider the consequences. Charging youth as adults ignores this overwhelming evidence.
Incarcerating Youth Affects the Whole Family
Complexities in the juvenile justice system and court process may make parents feel confused or powerless, which can cause emotional upheaval in families. In addition, while financial hardship is a risk factor for juvenile crime, the economic burdens associated with court and legal fees can have long-lasting financial consequences.
To avoid these ramifications, you must hire an experienced juvenile attorney to help your family and ensure a brighter future for your child. Katie Walsh is a former prosecutor who knows the ins and outs of juvenile court and has handled thousands of cases. Contact us today for a free consultation.