Children Should not be Tried Like Adults

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The legal procedures surrounding the prosecution of criminals whohave not attained the legal age has been contentious for a long time.The proponents of the idea that children the justice system shodsubject children to the same law as adult cite the appropriateness ofpunishing people in a uniform way for common crimes. Another schoolof thought feels it would be unfair to subject children to the samepunishment as adults since they have different developmentmilestones. Children are weak physically and mentally, and they maynot stand the same conditions as adults. The idea of punishingchildren and the youths became significant in the 1990s when therewas an upsurge of youth crimes (Carmen, 2013). There was a need tocurtail the number of youths committing atrocities in the society byhanding them harsh punishments. The idea of exempting child offendersfrom the kind f punishments faced by the adults simply because theirbiological development is incomplete is unfathomable for many. Forminor crimes that are common in the society, such as theft ofproperty with little value, may not attract harsh penalties (Carmen,2013). However, some of the outlying crimes like murder, rape andselling drugs should not exempt children from strict penalties.However, the environment surrounding their punishment should takeinto consideration the physical and mental development of children.

Thesis Statement

Although the number of juvenile offenders is increasing, the youngcriminlas should not be subject to a similar trial with the adultsbecause their emotional and physical development is not complete andputting them on the overly punitive environment may hinder theirdevelopment.

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that children offendersshould have a separate system of trial and correction that isdifferent from the mainstream adult trail and correctional system.

Research Method

Various scholars have extensively studied the topic of juvenile trialand correction and its juxtaposition with the adult criminalprocedure. Therefore, there is sufficient information from fieldresearch with valid conclusions and recommendations meant to advisepolicy makers and child rights activists when approaching the issueof trying children. The paper will focus on these articles to drawits conclusions con the inappropriateness of subjecting children tothe same trial just like adults. Also, the article will presentcounter arguments that incline to the proposition of a similar trialand use the available research to point out the insufficiency in theclaims in support of its thesis. As a social issue, it will employthe theoretical framework of using several social issues to justifyor dispel the appropriateness of a contentious issue in the society.Since the issue of trying children is one of the debated issues bymany people, the paper will use this technique, borrow from the ideaspresented by different authors, and discuss their premises to supportthe thesis statement. The paper will focus on the pieces of workwritten in the last ten years for it to remain current and relevantto the topic.

Information from Literature

The first juvenile court in the United States became operational in1999. The government established the court on by basing it on twoprinciples. First, the court assumed that the juvenile offenders arenot fully mature to take responsibility as mature offenders(Puzzanchera et al. 2010). Therefore, when punishing them, the courtshould consider their incapacity to account for all their actions andbeing liable for them. Secondly, the juvenile system indicated thatit was easier to rehabilitate children than adults. Therefore, itwould be unwise to rehabilitate them together with adults. Theprinciples had become the founding framework for the juvenile courtsin Chicago before the judicial system extended them to other states.However, with the increasing number of children committing crimes,many states have implemented the laws to try children and adults, andthis has been the source of outrage from children rights activists.Some countries also regard children above the age of fourteen yearsas mature to face prosecution and punishment for adults in variouscircumstances (Puzzanchera et al. 2010).

The establishment of the juvenile courts was to separate the youthfuloffenders from the adult criminal and therefore, rehabilitating themin a forgiving and less punitive environment than in the adultcorrectional facilities. The reason for the distinction is thatjuveniles are developmentally different from the adults regardingself-control, increased vulnerability and the possibility of facingtricky influence from adults. Arguably, juvenile offenders have poordecision-making skills, and they may require the intervention of aresponsible adult to guide them (Siegel &amp Welsh, 2014).Therefore, they may make decisions to commit crime mainly due to lackof information. Their reliance on adults for guidance makes it easyfor correctional facilities to rehabilitate them as opposed to adultcriminals.

Since the inception of the pioneer juvenile court in the UnitedStates, policymakers have made significant statutory changes toredefine the circumstances under which minors are considered asoffenders. Most of the states subject juvenile criminal to adultprocedures if they commit crimes that the court perceives as serious.Some of the serious crimes include murder drug trafficking, rape,and robbery with violence. The definition of crimes that wouldsubject children to strict and punitive procedures paved a way forthe debate for the appropriate legal age of children. Some stateshold the law with an unofficial slogan that “once and adult, alwaysan adult.” Therefore, if the authorities transfer a juvenile to anadult court for trial, the child should remain in the adult trialsystem for all the proceeding regardless of the nature of crime inquestion.

Due to the increased number of juvenile crimes, the legislature hasbeen on the task of developing appropriate approaches to the juvenilecriminality with an aim of reducing the crimes while at the same timepaying attention to the children’s comprehensive development. As away of protecting children from correctional practice that may havedetrimental effects on their development. Most of the efforts focuson combating the factors that lead the juveniles combating crime withthe perception that such a move will reduce the number of childrenarraigned in court for committing a crime.

According to the National Report on Juvenile Offenders and Victims(2006), the Supreme Court has been on the frontline to forge a pathfor children’s trial and rehabilitation. The judicial system hasgranted authority to the juvenile court judges to waive jurisdiction.In doing so, the judges decide whether to retain juvenile offendersto the procedures of the juvenile courts or subject them to the adulttrail (Pagnanelli, 2007). The jurisdiction of the juvenile courtjudges has had various implications on the number of children endingup in adult trials. Since 1992, all the states with the exception ofNebraska had an open and efficient system that facilitates thetransfer of juvenile offenders in the adult courts. The age ofcriminal responsibility that would make a juvenile offender land intoan adult court remains 15 or 16 in thirteen states in the UnitedStates (Pagnanelli, 2007). Most of the states have established theage limits in which children cannot end up in an adult trialregardless of the crime they commit.

The National Report on Juvenile Offenders and Victims (2006) providethat most states have put the minimum age at 10 years. Anybody beyondthe age of 10 could be subject to an adult trial if the gravity oftheir crime in their state warrants the juvenile judges to recommendit. In Mexico, however, the maximum age is 15 years. Additionally, 22states and the District of Columbia do not have a common age thatwould restrict the prosecution of a child in an adult court. Thesestates rely on the gravity of crime to sort out the children who willface trial in the juvenile and adult courts. The lack of a minimumage in these states is an impediment to the recommendations made bybehavioral and psychological experts who propose a different trialfor children and adult (Sprack, 2011). Although some of the crimesthat children commit are grave, they do not exempt them from thecharacteristics of the developmental stage that they belong. Thephysical and psychological capacity of children is different fromthat of adults. The trial and rehabilitative procedure may not,therefore, bear the desirable outcomes in the two categories ofoffenders. As at 2004, 15 states had implemented a concurrentjurisdiction (Sprack, 2011). In the concurrent procedure, the statesoperate the adult and the juvenile court almost in a parallel way.The prosecutors decide on where to take the case depending on thegravity of the crime. Serious crimes like arson, murder and rape findtheir way into the adult courts. These jurisdictions in the differentstates have been avenues to exposing children to adult trails. Themain premise is to the gravity of the crime and its effect on thesociety rather than the effects of the process on the rehabilitationof the child.

In understanding the role of the state laws in exempting childrenfrom adult procedures, the death penalty has been a key issue. Manystates consider murder to be one of the most serious crimes thatshould warrant an individual to face trial in an adult courtregardless of their age. In 1988, the Supreme Court struggled todefine a child and an adult amidst heightened public emotions. A15-year-old boy in the state of Oklahoma had taken part in the brutalmurder of his former brother in law. Upon arraignment in court, thejudge found out that the boy had not attained the legal age thatcould have exposed him to the death sentence since there wassufficient evidence to show that he was among the people who hadcommitted murder. According to the Oklahoma law, the boy could notface the death sentence because he was not yet sixteen. However, theattorney prosecuting the boy filed a motion to show that the boy hadthe mental capacity to understand what he was doing and that he knewthe repercussions of his actions. The court handed him an adult trialand sentenced him to death. The case raised concerns among the legalprofessionals and rights activists. Some consider the ordeal asundeserving and that it exposed the boy to cruel treatment before hewas mature to understand his actions. Most states, therefore,consider the pluralism the country that try to set standards fordecency during legal procedures. In most countries, the minimum ageunder which an individual can face an adult trial is 16 years.However, some states still hold on the gravity of the crime and itseffects on the society to decide the kind of trials that juvenileoffenders should face.

Juveniles have diminished personal culpability. According to Lawrenceet al. (2009), the fundamental premise in judicial system requiresthat a crime must include both the act and the intention to committhe crime. The court must show the individual that he/she committed acrime or went against a written rule in the jurisdiction before beingsentenced. The individual must also be culpable of the crime theycommit. Juvenile criminals and mentally retarded people fall into thecategory of people who do not feel culpable of their crimes mainlydue to the immaturity of their emotional development or a significantlevel of insanity (Scott et al., 2006). The Supreme Court resolvedthat juvenile offenders and the mentally retarded are under theprotection of the eighth amendment of the constitution ad they thecourt exempts them from facing the death sentence. Lawrence et al.(2009) hold that although most juvenile offenders demonstrate theknowledge of right and wrong, they are not competent to stand anadult trial. They exhibit diminished capacities to understand themistakes they make and learn from the punitive process (Lawrence etal., 2009). They have little capacity to reason logically, controltheir impulses and understand the reaction of other people. However,the authors provide that the incapacity for culpability should not inany way exempt the juvenile criminals from the due process. Instead,the judicial system should have a separate rehabilitation process forthem. The decision of the Supreme Court finds a prop in psychologicalresearch that demonstrates the inability of children to reason likeadults.

Developmental psychology indicates that culpability andunderstanding the feelings of other people are different from peoplein the different developmental stages. Juveniles have a low level ofcognitive development, and this means that they do not processinformation that the same rate as adults. Also, they do not have andlogical alternatives for their behavior like adults (Steinberg,2009). Due to their low level of cognitive development, the juvenilestend to concentrate mostly on the short-term achievement as opposedto the future consequences of their behavior. Therefore, when theycommit crimes, they may only do it to fulfill their emotions withoutconsidering the effects of their actions on the other party or thelegal implications of their behavior. Lawrence et al. (2009) alsoprovide that the children are more vulnerable to peer pressure whenit comes to making decisions. When committing a crime, the youthmight do so to fit in a certain group without considering thelong-term consequence of facing a legal charge and a punitiveprocess. Neuroscientific research indicates that the part of thebrain that controls impulse is poorly developed in adolescents unlikein adults. When the statutory law subjects the juvenile offenders tothe adult system, they go against their biological, social andpsychological milestones (Lawrence et al., 2009). The purpose ofinforming individuals of their actions that are against and thereason they find themselves in court is to trigger culpability. Inchildren, the process may not serve its purpose unless when thejudicial system customizes a punitive process that takes intoconsideration the low reduced capacity for incapability in thejuveniles (Lawrence et al., 2009).

Apart from having low levels of culpability, children tried in adultcourts are expose violent behavior in adult prisons, and they arevulnerable since they cannot defend themselves. A report released bythe Southern Poverty Law Center indicates that more than 10, 000children are exposed to violent behaviors in prisons in the country.It gives an account of a sixteen-year-old boy who was thrown in anAlabama prison after being tried in an adult court. In prison, theboy reported having witnessed more than 30 stabbing incidents ofinmates fighting for crucial items in prison (Redding, 2008). He hadto keep bow to the demands of strong inmates who even abused himsexually. His tender age made him vulnerable since the other inmatesknew he was physically weak and timid of the prison life. The fightfor survival results in the death of some inmates.

According to the Sothern Poverty Law Center, children who face trialin the adult courts and sentenced to adult prisons are likely tocommit other crimes after release. According to the report, 33% ofthe children held in adult prisons are rearrested after beingreleased (Redding, 2008). Scholars attribute the trend to theinefficient system of the adult correctional system that does notconsider the special needs of the juvenile offenders. The purpose ofsentencing people is to make them feel remorse for their past actionsand curtail their future criminal intentions. However, when childrenundergo through the adult system, they may turn out to be dangerousthan they were before being sent to prison. Due to theirvulnerability in the adult prison, children might develop dangerousdefense tactics that can include taking the lives of those whoafflict them (Redding, 2008). Also, they age and timidity may lead toantisocial behavior in prison, and it can also propagate when theyserve their terms. A number of professional bodies have used thispremise to oppose the idea of some states subjecting the juvenilecriminals to adult trial and sending them to adult prisons. Theyinclude The American Jail Association, The American CorrectionalAssociation, and The Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators,The Association of State Correctional Administrators and the NationalAssociation of Counties.

According to the human rights watch 2013, 98% of the juvenile casestransferred to the adult judicial system were out the law amended bythe states. The law in the states allows the prosecutors to look intothe cases, determine the gravity of the crime, and give arecommendation for transfer from the juvenile to the adult courts.According to the report, none of the children who face transferchallenges the recommendations of the prosecutors (McGowan et al.2007). They do not understand either the law or what is going on andthey only realize that they have been transferred to the adult courtswhen they appear for a hearing. In Florida, children as young as 12ears may find themselves in the adult courts. Dice they do notunderstand the jail system, they cannot challenge the decision of thecourt. The prosecutors, therefore, have the liberty to makerecommendations for transfer with little legal objections (Redding,2008). Rather than the children being prosecuted in the juvenilesystem that works to rehabilitate and balance the developmental needsof ten children, the adult system does not does not rehabilitate thechildren to the best interest of the society. The transfer exposeschildren to the adult criminal justice system that values punishmentfor the offenders to feel the remorse for the crimes they commit. Italso exposes children to adult correctional facilities that deprivethem of age appropriate programs as well as subjecting them to harshsentences that have life altering consequence, for example, the lifesentence (Redding, 2008).

Discussion of Results

The findings in the literature show that children are different fromadults, and they should, therefore, not face similar charges withadults. Exposing them to adult trials goes against theirdevelopmental milestones. It also subjects them to a rehabilitationprogram that does more harm than good. It is unwise to hold childrenand adolescents who have not attained the legal age together withalso who have sound logical reasoning and a sense of responsibility.In other sociological perspectives, children are regarded asdifferent from adults both in thinking and taking responsibility. Forexample, developmental psychology recognizes that children’sdevelopment continues to become complex as they advance in age(Steinberg &amp Piquero, 2009).

As they advance in age, they increase their sense of autonomy, andthey change their proprieties. During childhood and adolescence,offenders might commit a crime to fulfill their emotional needswithout considering the impact of their behavior on the feelings ofother people. The number of youths who commit crime out of negativepeer pressure is high for crimes like drug abuse and robbery. Themain aim is to fulfill the short-term needs without considering thepossibility of their actions leading the, to face criminal charges.In some societal matters that require the participation of adults,children are not allowed to take part. For example, children cannotdrive, smoke, and buy alcohol or vote. These activities base theirrestriction on the premise that children do not have the capacity tomake autonomous decisions, and they might be under the undueinfluence (Steinberg &amp Piquero, 2009). If such activitiesrecognize children and incapable of handling adult affairs, why doesthe judicial system fail to recognize the incapacity? It would beunfair to distinguish between the ability to take criminalresponsibility and the responsibility to make decisions in othermatters. When the states sort out criminal activities to term some asimportant to the community and that they warrant the state to try thechild in an adult court they fail to create a balance. For example,in other important activities in the society like an election, thestates do not regard them as important to include the children.Therefore, they should not hold crime under bias to hypothesize thatchildren can have an adult responsibility in crime.

Secondly, the purpose of trial and punishment is to reduce crime.However, when the judicial process exposes children to the adulttrial and punitive procedures, the practice leads to heightenedrecidivism rather than reducing it. Research shows that more than 33%of the children who come out of adult prisons are re-arrested havingcommitted crime. If 33 children out of every 100 who face adult trailcontinue committing a crime, the states should question theappropriateness of transferring the child cases into adult courts(Steinberg &amp Piquero, 2009). Research also indicates thatchildren are easy to reform and rehabilitate than adults. Theprinciples of juvenile rehabilitation programs as outlined in thepioneers juvenile court in the United States operated on theprinciple that children are different from adults. Regardless of thecrimes committed by a juvenile offender, the fact remains thatchildren are different from adults in reasoning and takingresponsibility. Children’s vulnerability to negative influenceleads to many of them committing a crime and facing criminal charges.Their response to influence makes it possible for correctionalfacilities’ staff to influence them positively. In the adult trialand facilities, most of the people there committed a crime withoutthe naivety of the consequences that would follow. They tend to beviolent and the staff reacts to their behavior by sometimes applyingforce. Children in these facilities may feel frustrated and developedviolent behavior.

Also, with the proper treatment of children who commit a crime, therehabilitation program can alter their behavior and mold them intoresponsible adults. None of the states benefit economically fromhaving a large number of productive people behind bars for manyyears. A huge number of offenders results in an economic burden. Asmentioned, children respond well to correctional programs and theeven the most violent children can become role models in the society(Steinberg &amp Piquero, 2009). Children’s brain continues todevelop and change. Their pre-frontal cortex that regulatesaggression, long-range planning, mental flexibility and abstractthinking is not fully developed in children. The amygdala that actsas the center of impulsive and aggressive behavior is the center ofchild’s brain (Bernard &amp Kurlychek, 2010). It remainsunderexploited due to the underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex.Psychological research affirms that parents and legal professionalsunderstand that children and teenagers tend to react irrationallyunlike adults. Year major focus is to fulfill their short-term needs.Also, stressful conditions heighten the risk of an emotional reactionto children ad they are likely to contravene the rights of otherpeople leading to crime (Bernard &amp Kurlychek, 2010). The supremecourt of the United States also recognizes this aspect of children’smaturity. In Roper v. Simmons, Justice Kennedy of the Supreme Courtindicated that scientific and sociological studies confirm thatchildren possess a lack of maturity in making decisions and generalbehavior (Pagnanelli, 2007). Justice Kennedy also affirmed thatchildren have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility, and they arelikely to take impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions.

The judicial system exposes children to ill-treatment when itsubjects them to adult treatment in trial and correction. Thesouthern poverty law center indicates that children are five timesmore likely to be sexually assaulted in courts than the adultprisoners (Humes, 2015). They are also twice likely to be beaten andharassed by staff due to their naivety and vulnerability (Kupchik,2006). They are also vulnerable to be attacked with weapons andcommitting suicide. The conditions in adult facilities do not haveprovisions for children, and they have to face uniform application oflaw and practices. The idea is not only a violation of theirdevelopmental right but also a threat to their life and dignity(Kupchik, 2006). If they are eight times likely to commit suicidethat the adult prisoners, the prosecutors should put the risk ontheir life into consideration before recommending for the transfer ofchildren cases into the adult trails courts.

Contrary to the conventional belief, it is the child, and not theguardian, who stands in court to answer the charges. Children do nothave the capacity to withstand such weighty legal matters. Whenchildren face trial in the adult courts, they are not competenceenough to make decisions, and they only rely on the effort of theirlegal representatives. The fact that the prosecutors in variouscourts can recommend for the transfer of cases without facing a lotof legal objections exposes children’s vulnerability to the adulttrail system (Kupchik, 2006). The law should not act contrary to thefinding of social and psychological research that demonstrates theinability of children to make rational decisions. Giving theprosecutors the power to with the gravity of the crimes committed bychildren is also against the recommendation of the Supreme Court thataffirms the inability of children to face adult trial.

Finally, the states that use the premise of the effect of crime onthe society to decide whether children should face adult trial aremisinformed. The states only act on the basis of pluralism to punishjuvenile offenders, and they overlook the empirical evidence thatsubjecting children to adult treatment only increases crime in thelong run. The number of children committing crime after going throughthe adult trial and punitive procedure continues to soar.


First, it is clear that subjecting children to adult trial contributeto more harm that the intended desirable outcome in children.Therefore, all states should have a uniform application of the lawthat respects the right of the children. Some states like Californiaand Florida prosecute children as young as 12 years in the adultcourts (Scott &amp Steinberg, 2008). The statutory amendments shoe asignificant disparity with most of the states relying on the publicfeeling to place juvenile criminals in the popular context. Toeradicate the exhibited racial disparity in the number ofafro-American and white children charged in the adult courts, the lawshould be clear and incline to the provisions of the Supreme Courtthat attributes children to immaturity and reduced culpability. Witha uniform law in the prosecutors will use the same criteria forprosecuting children rather than relying on the public feelings orthe liberty granted to them by the court.

Secondly, exempting children from the adult trial does not mean thejudicial system should not hold children accountable for theiractions. The judicial system should have an autonomous juvenilesystem that would correct any form of crime committed by the children(Scott &amp Steinberg, 2008). For serious crimes including murder,rape, and drug peddling, their gravity dies not erase the fact thatchildren who need social assistance and correction commit them. Thejuvenile system should correct and punish juvenile offenders forthese crimes with social consideration to their developmentalrequirements. The intention of correcting and punishing them is toensure that they do not repeat similar mistakes in future. The rightapproach to correction can assist the system in achieving this goalrather than producing hardened and violent youths who would nothesitate to commit crimes when exposed to the adult trail andcorrection system.

Additionally, the national law should set a minimum age under whichan individual can face trial in a criminal court. Most statesconsider children between 14 and 16 as mature enough to face an adulttrail (Scott &amp Steinberg, 2008). However, the provisions of theSupreme Court may not be uniformly applicable with such disparities.Setting a common age for all the states help to dispel the effect ofthe public emotions since they may not override the application ofthe law.


In conclusion, the debate surrounding trying children in the adultcourts continues to elicit the feelings of different stakeholders.The stakeholders including legal professionals, the judicial system,sociologists and psychologists agree that children act immaturely,and they do not have the same capacity as adults. Therefore, whensome states overlook this reality of development and apply thegravity of the crimes that children commit leading to charging themin adult courts raises concerns. Children culpability is low, andthey may not feel remorse for the actions they commit when theyappear in adult courts. Moreover, the adult trail and correctionexpose them to violent behavior, and they become vulnerable to abuseand suicide. The effects of the adult system on their metaldevelopment do not reduce reductivism as intended in the correctionalprocedure. The judicial system should give autonomy to the juvenilesystem to give it the power to try all criminal charges broughtagainst children. It should also give the juvenile system theauthority to correct all types of offenders while paying attention totheir developmental needs.


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