What’s My Age Again?Children have become increasingly violent since the 1970s. Today more gangs exist and homicides occur than in the past thirty years. Crime rates have only dropped slightly in the five previous years (Vieregge n.p.). Now that more juvenile delinquents are entering the justice system, the question arises as to how they should be tried. Being tried in a juvenile court for a serious offense is much like a slap on the wrist. Sure, they can be sent to an adult correctional facility if sentenced to it in a juvenile court, but the longest amount of served will be twenty years. In contrast, trying a juvenile as an adult guarantees that the youth will be held accountable for his or her actions. Children commit violent acts throughout the United States and believe that they cannot be held responsible for their actions; such a practice should change and violent juvenile should be used as examples to the rest of the country’s youth by being tried as adults in the United States Justice System.
Overall, the crimes of juveniles have become much larger and the ages of the delinquents have dropped considerably since the first juvenile court was established in 1899. The main purpose of this court was to deal with miscreants that threw bricks or rocks through windows (Butterfield 154). Today, the juvenile courts have a much harder task at hand. In 1985 and 1986, Howard Snyder found an increase of 75 percent among juveniles for crimes involving drugs (Hurst 2). The crime rates seem to have sky-rocketed ever since the early 1980s. The fastest growing crime has become possession of a loaded gun. Yet, the youth of America are not just carrying those loaded guns and not using them. The year of 1991 produced armed robbery exceeding drug-related offenses (Kramer 213). The two previous years had brought a 26 percent increase in juveniles arrested for murder and non-negligent manslaughter. Those same two years lead to a 17 percent increase in aggravated assault (214). As the reader can clearly see, crimes committed by juveniles have drastically risen in the past twenty years. Today, with a little over twenty-two million Americans between the ages of thirteen and nineteen (Vieregge n.p.), many criminologists expect a new surge in crime (Butterfield 154).
Among these new delinquents is an alarmingly large number of young girls. Between the years of 1965 and 1985, the arrest rate of young women involved in serious crimes grew ten times faster than the arrest of males for the same crime. Now, fifteen years after that initial study, girls make up one in every four arrests for serious crimes, as opposed to the one in six such arrests twenty years ago. According to the American Correctional Association, if the trend of females becoming increasingly participant in violent crimes continues, young girls will embody 50 percent of all juvenile arrests before the 21st century is half over (Hurst 2).
Just as the number of delinquent girls has increased, so has the number of delinquents for the African American race. A 1994 study of National Youth Survey data found that twenty year-old African Americans were five-times more likely to be accused of a violent crime than a Caucasian of the same age. This same study suggests that the statistics are the way they are because young African Americans receive fewer economic opportunities, thus leading to a likelihood that they will fall victim to gang-related activities (Geraghty 38). The number of delinquent African Americans may be related to the recent changes in the court system.
Due to the changes in crime, the court system has had to change accordingly. As stated earlier, the original juvenile court was created in 1899 (Butterfield 154). Eight hundred years prior to that, in 12th century England, under the reign of Henry II, no distinction was made between adult criminals and juvenile offenders. The were place the in the same rat-infested jails under the same revolting conditions (Stewart 7). The early 1900s brought about that much needed change in the court system, although it was not until the early 1960s that the change became drastic. For the first time, juveniles could attain the services of a lawyer and were given the same protections afforded to adults (Kramer 212-213). Because the crimes of youths have become more aggressive, the punishment they receive has also had to become more aggressive. In last ten years, states have turned to criminalization in response to the increase of violent criminal behavior among juveniles the right to a trial by jury (Geraghty 39). Justice administrators are finally beginning to realize that without strong repercussions, juveniles are just going to become increasingly more violent. Who is going to fall victim to the negligence of the United States Justice System? The innocent, law-abiding citizens who pay the wages of those heedless officials are going to be the exploited ones! Finally, a new law in Virginia has decided that public safety and the rights of the victim are just as important as protecting the accused child’s interests. This new law states that any child fourteen years or older that has been charged with murder will be tried as an adult. As though a challenge had been issued to increase punishment of juvenile offenders, New York Governor George E. Pataki pushed the New York state legislature to increase the minimum sentence for the numerous juvenile offenders in the state. He argued for the transferring of all sixteen-year-old youths, held in detention centers run by the State Division for Youth, to adult correctional centers. Pataki also reasoned that by sharply increasing sentences for youths convicted of a second felony, there would be a decline in the number of adolescents convicted a third time (Butterfield 155). On the other hand, in Illinois, juvenile court judges must consider eight factors when deciding if a child under the age of fifteen should be tried as an adult. These are the eight factors considered: whether enough evidence has been provided for a grand jury to return an indictment. whether evidence proves the crime was committed in a premeditated and aggressive manner, the minor’s age, the minor’s previous history, whether facilities are available to the Juvenile Court for the rehabilitation and treatment of the minor, whether the best interest of the minor and the security of the public may require that the minor continue in custody or under supervision for a period extending beyond his maturity, whether the alleged offense was committed with a deadly weapon in the possession of the minor, and whether the alleged offense was a felony offense in school under the Cannabis Control Act (Geraghty 26). Those eight factors can be the difference between a lesser sentence in the juvenile court as opposed to a dramatically stronger punishment in the adult court system.
Just as controversial as how a juvenile should be tired is what causes the juvenile’s actions. Although no one factor has been determined as the cause of youth violence, the media and Hollywood play a very large role. Violence is a common thing to see on any given television program. Television programming in the United States is now considered the most violent in the advanced industrialized nations (Hepburn 91). Broadcasting companies claim that violence sells; but what about it sells? The shows that portray serial killers as normal people who just made a few mistakes are the shows that are corrupting today’s youth. What must the six o’clock news go into in-depth details about how a mass murderer carved his initials in his victims’ stomachs? A typical evening of television includes at least six or seven references to violence, not including the number of times the offenses are shown (Vieregge n.p.). Several decades ago, a few psychologists hypothesized that by viewing violence in the ?unreal television world,? viewers would actually have a reverse reaction and violence would be reduced in the ?real world.? Such a theory has been proved incorrect. L.R. Huesmann and L.D. Eron have proved through a study of seven hundred fifty-eight children in grades one through three, that exposure to violence actually leads to violence (Hepburn 92). In another study founded by the ABC network, young male felons who had been incarcerated for violent crimes were surveyed and it was found that 22 to 34 percent of the felons, particularly the most violent ones, said that they had imitated the crime techniques seen on television. These felons had watched per day almost twice as much television as the general population of children (93). This violence brought into America’s homes through television programming should come to an end.
Gangs have become a prevalent cause of youth violence. According to the Justice Department, there were one hundred twenty thousand gang members in one thousand four hundred thirty-six gangs nationwide in 1998. Contrary to that report though, is the Washington Times statistic that in 1995, there were more that three hundred fifty thousand gang members nationwide. Obviously, gang activity is extremely extensive. Not only are gangs, getting larger and stronger, but they are becoming more violent. Authorities in California characterize the gangs today as ??heavily armed…involved in drug trafficking, witness [to] intimidation, extortion, and bloody territorial wars.’? When police, students, and teachers were surveyed by Metropolitan Life, 93 percent of them maintained that violence in schools was caused by gang membership (Hacker 88). Some advocates for lesser punishments of juveniles argue that prison is a hurtful experience for a teen because that same teen will emerge years later from a world of no affection, no positive role models, and ?no education other than an intensive immersion in the ways of crime and brutality? (Geraghty 34). What do these people think a gang is; loving and caring? If so, they are incredibly wrong. A gang may be what some juveniles use as a substitute for a family, but it is a brutal form of comradeship that should be found somewhere else!
There are positive outcomes when treating juveniles in both adult and youth courts. Sometimes all it takes is an overnight stay in jail, or for others, a little time spent in juvenile hall. Many of these offenders simply committed the crime as a so-called joke, or because they had nothing to do. Although their reasoning may have been poor, they still must be punished. Most all juveniles that have been incarcerated for either a minor offense, or a major felony, have only been imprisoned once. The courts must be doing something right (Abruzzese 4).
Then again, there are the juveniles who return to delinquency and are a little harder to deal with. Take Tyris Wilkerson for example. At the young age of eight, he was arrested for burglary. A year later Wilkerson was arrested for sexual battery. A forcible rape was next on his agenda, with the help of three other boys, all age ten. As punishment for his actions, Wilkerson was placed on a year probation. Not long after his probation ended, he was arrested for firing a gun within city limits and a month later Wilkerson was arrested for aggravated assault, possession of a stolen vehicle, and possession of a sawed-off shotgun. He received a somewhat larger sentence in a juvenile court, two years in a privately run juvenile facility. Wilkerson was released in eleven months, but picked up shortly after his release for traffic violations. To top it all off, two months later, in September 1995, at the age of fourteen, Tyris Wilkerson was arrested for killing a forty-year old man during an armed robbery. Police claimed he committed two other armed robberies in which victims were shot but not killed. This time, Wilkerson was tried where he should have been sent in the first place; the adult court system. He was found guilty of second degree murder by a jury so he received the mandatory juvenile life sentence. Who knows how many headaches and heartbreaks could have been spared if only he had been tried as an adult? Tyris Wilkerson is the perfect example of why juvenile delinquents should be tried as adults! As Bob Dole, advocate for tougher measures when dealing with juvenile criminals says, ??They commit an adult crime, give them adult time!’?(Nelson 175-176).
Crime prevention programs help build self esteem in youth, so as to set them on the right track. On a local level, police departments lead students through the D.A.R.E. program which helps teach them that there are better alternatives than drugs and violence. These programs help numerous students decided between a life of crime and punishment or a long, happy life.
Dealing with youth after they’ve been in trouble can be a much more difficult task than showing them what they shouldn’t do in the first place. These are rehabilitation programs. One particular method being exercised in Colorado is somewhat like military boot camp. Offenders are placed in this three phase program so that they can rediscover their values and motivation to stay out of trouble. They also receive academic instruction and cognitive development (Dallao 115). Rehabilitation programs help troubled youths gain their feeling of self-worth, which helps them stay out of trouble.
If they commit the crime, they should do the time. Juveniles today believe that their crimes will have no resulting punishment because they are considered minors. They are wrong! Actions do have consequences! I believe in swift and certain punishment, especially when a child has committed an extremely serious offense (i.e. second-degree murder, armed robbery, etc.). Juvenile delinquents should be tried in the adult court system to insure that they will not be back again. We owe it to the law-abiding citizens in these great United States of America to punishment the juvenile offenders in the manner of their crimes; harshly.
Abruzzese, George. ?Juvenile Crime: Approaching the Millennium.? Juvenile Justice Jan. 1997: n.p. Available HTTP: http://juvenilejustice.com/millennium.html. 30 Mar. 2000. 1-5. An article giving an overall view of the changing crimes of juveniles.
Butterfield, Fox. ?Harsh Punishment for Violent Youths: An Overview.? Current Controversies : Youth Violence. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 1998. An in-depth chapter discussing statistics and studies of youth violence.
Dallao, Mary. ?Rehabilitation Programs Can Reduce Youth Violence.? Current Controversies : Youth Violence. San Diego, CA : Greenhaven, 1998. An argumentative chapter advocating the good of rehabilitation programs for troubled youth.
Geraghty, Thomas F. ?Justice for Children : How do We Get There?? Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology Fall 1997 : 190-241. Proquest. Available HTTP: http://proquest.umi.com/pdqweb?TS=967438…1632&SK=2&Idx=17&Deli. 29 Mar. 2000. 1- 43. A lengthy article on court cases and state laws dealing with juvenile offenders.
Hacker, Nina George. ?Gangs Perpetuate Youth Violence.? Current Controversies : Youth Violence. San Diego, CA : Greenhaven, 1998. A brief chapter on how gangs lead to violent youths.
Hepburn, Mary A. ?Television Violence May Cause Youth Violence.? Current Controversies : Youth Violence. San Diego, CA : Greenhaven, 1998. An informative chapter arguing that youths pick- up violent habits due to violent television programming.
Hurst, Hunter. ?Turn of the Century : Rediscovering the Value of Juvenile Treatment.? Corrections Today Feb. 1990 : 48-50. SIRS Researcher on the Web. Available HTTP : http://sks.sirs.com/cgi-bin/hst-article…1900&type=ART&sound=no&key=Rape_Factors. 30 Mar. 2000. 1-4. An article on developing trends in juvenile crimes. Explores causes for youth violence and researches early court system.
Kramer, Rita. ?The Juvenile Justice System Is Too Lenient.? Current Controversies : Youth Violence. San Diego, CA : Greenhaven, 1992. A chapter explaining the changes needed in the juvenile court system in America.
Nelson, Lane. ?Harsh Punishment Will Not Help Violent Youths.? Current Controversies : Youth Violence. San Diego, CA : Greenhaven, 1998. A controversial chapter on why juveniles should not be treated harshly.
Stewart, Gail B. The Other America : Teens in Prison. San Diego, CA : Lucent, 1997. An informative book on what juvenile punishment is really like.
Vieregge, J.D. ?Breaking the Rules.? Simply the Best. Nashville Community High School, Nashville, IL. 1 Apr. 2000. A Presentation on the consequences juvenile delinquents face upon entering the court system.
Witkin, Gordon. ?How to Keep Young Toughs From Committing Violent Acts : Swift and Certain Punishment.? U.S. News & World Report 29 Dec. 1997-5 Jan 1998 : 67-70. Proquest. Available HTTP: http://proquest.umi.com/pdqweb?TS=95435…&Fmt=4&Sid=1&Idx=2&Deli=1&RPT=309&Dtp =1. 29 Mar. 2000. 1-3. A newspaper article discussing how harsh punishment will hinder youth violence.