Should children and
adolescents who have not reached legal age be sentenced as adults when they
commit serious crimes such as murder. It is my position that they should not. Hereís
According to Amnesty
International, a human rights watch dog organization, the United States is the
only western democracy that sends youthful offenders to adult court and
sentences them to adult prisons. According
to amnesty international the imprisonment of youthful offenders in adult prisons
violates United States international treaty obligations prohibiting cruel and
inhumane treatment of children and adolescents.
Is this an unwarranted
or extreme position to take? I
donít believe that it is. Most
youthful offenders will be physically and/or sexually assaulted within
seventy-two hours of admission to adult correctional facilities.
Such abuse will continue to occur on a regular basis for the duration of
their incarceration. The effects of
this abuse are horrific and include suicides, suicide attempts, severe
personality damage, and the development of severe and permanent psychiatric
symptoms. These effects make
youthful offenders sentenced as adults more dangerous, not less.
Our willing to do this to our children sends a strong message that the
level of moral development of elected officials, judges, prosecutors and the
general public is rapidly and dangerously declining.
We need to ask
ourselves an important question:
we the kind of people who are capable of inflicting cruel and inhumane
punishment upon our children and adolescents?
As a nation, we
answered that question decades ago with an emphatic no.
At that time we recognized that most kids deserve a second chance and can
turn their lives around with proper no-nonsense treatment in rehabilitation
oriented juvenile correction centers. We
backed up our answer up by developing a Juvenile Justice System that protects
kids from cruel and inhumane punishment while providing rehabilitation, and
teaching the skills necessary to become a productive member of society.
We did all this because
itís the right thing to do. We
did it because to do less would have been beneath us as one of the most moral
nations in the civilized world.
We built our Juvenile
Justice System around three critical principles:
It is wrong to hold children and adolescents who have not reached
legal age to adult standards. They
are developmentally immature and often unclear about the nature of right and
wrong and without proper adult supervision can have problems with judgment and
impulse control causing them to act out impulsively without forethought;
With appropriate treatment most children who commit crimes, even the
most violent crimes, can be rehabilitated and become responsible adults; and
A moral society feels obligated to give kids a second chance whenever possible
by having a Juvenile Justice System designed to help kids change rather than
punish them for past offenses.
Our Juvenile justice
system is based upon the recognition that moral societies value their children
and seek to help rather than hurt, treat rather than punish, and rehabilitate
rather than destroy.
Not all youthful
offenders can be rehabilitated. Some
pose a real and present danger and need to be segregated from society.
The period of confinement, however, should be designed to give youthful
offenders a chance to learn, grow, and change.
If long-term protective segregation is required, it should be done in
adolescent correctional facilities which protect the children from harm.
It is important to
remember that punishment does not work.
The threat of punishment is an ineffective deterrent to crime, especially
for children and adolescents. Punishment
is a failed a strategy for changing behavior, teaching new skills, or developing
new and more positive attitudes and beliefs.
The only justification for inflicting harsh punishment is to deliver
vengeance in accord with the old testament standard of an eye-for-an-eye.
Loved ones of victims
may feel justified in crying out for vengeance.
The result is tragic. Vengeance
does not relieve the grief and loss. It
also instills a sense of inner conflict and guilt.
On a deep level most human beings intuitively know that vengeance breeds
more vengeance and violence breeds more violence.
When people mature to higher levels of moral development they recognize
the obligation to break the cycle of vengeance and retribution.
Look at the pictures of
the two children below. Both are
victims. One is a victim of lethal violence inflicted by a twelve year
old playmate. The other is a victim
of a legal system that is rapidly declining into old testament morality or