Critical Thinking

The on the children and reported abuse, Illinois

 The sudden rise of juvenile crime has caused many to argue on whether or not juveniles should receive the same harsh sentences as adults and whether they should serve their sentence in adult prisons. Those who argue for it do not think of juveniles as children but see them as adults that are incapable to change for the better. On the other hand, those who oppose that idea argue that society should not treat juveniles as adults because of their mistakes and protect them from the cruelty that awaits them in adult facilities. However, I believe that juvenile offenders should not be punished as adult criminals, because of the fact that it will only worsen their future behavior. Juvenile court systems were integrated in 1899 in order to accommodate the needs of adolescents and focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment. According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, “operated youth ‘”prisons'” were under criticism for various abuses. Many States then took on the responsibility of operating juvenile facilities. Illinois passed the Juvenile Court Act of 1899, which established the Nation’s first juvenile court.” Before the first juvenile court was established, children were tried as adults and were placed along side of adult criminals to serve their time no matter their age. Because of the negative impact this had on the children and reported abuse, Illinois established the first juvenile court. Also, NCJRS states how “Rather than merely punishing delinquents for their crimes, juvenile courts sought to turn delinquents into productive citizens—through treatment.” Tthe Juvenile court’s goal was to focus on the offenders and not the offenses and help and rehabilitate rather than punishment and trauma. How to deal with juvenile offenders has been an issue in society for long. Violent crimes are being committed every day. “Almost one half of them are being committed by teenagers between the ages of 13 through 17” (Gregory L. Richter). In addition, economists estimate that the costs on criminal justice and private protection draw “$175 billion away from other productive programs” each year (Anderson 1999). This raises questions on whether our society should prioritize juvenile offenders or focus on other programs that are being affected by these expenditures. Also, homicide is the second leading cause of death “for youth ages 15 to 24; and juveniles are twice as likely as adults to be victims of serious violent crime and three times as likely to be victims of assault” (Snyder and Sickmund 1997). Because of facts like the ones stated, juvenile offenders and their repercussion has become an issue of great significance in our society, that prompts the question of whether juvenile offenders should be tried as adults or not. In our current society, adolescents are not allowed to drink or drive a vehicle without supervision and if they sign legal contracts, their signatures are invalid. Juveniles are  incapable of making mature, well-processed decisions; and this isn’t just because of lack of inexperience in life but because of the fact that adolescent brains are not yet fully developed. According to David Fassler, a certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, juveniles tend to “rely more on  instinctual structures, like the amygdala, and less on the more advanced areas, like the frontal lobes, which are associated with more goal-oriented and rational thinking.” Fassler also states that “based on the stage of their brain development, teenagers are more likely to act on impulse, misread social cues and others’ emotions, get into fights and accidents, or engage in more serious risk-taking behavior, like driving recklessly or while intoxicated.” In other words, adolescents are prone to make mistakes impulsively without fully thinking through their decisions due to their brain development. They are vulnerable to making the kinds of poor choices that result in them getting involved with the justice system. The fact that juveniles are susceptible to thinking irrational thoughts due to their age demonstrates that they should not endure the same consequences as fully matured adults. Those who advocate for harsh punishment, when it comes to juvenile offenders, often don’t know the difference between adult and juvenile facilities. Children in adult facilities, particularly in jails, frequently do not receive educational or other services appropriate to their needs. Juvenile facilities focus on rehabilitation whereas adult prisons do not. “More often than not, the juvenile justice system lays emphasis on enrolling youth offenders into rehabilitation programs with the key objective of enabling them to be productive societal members” (Elrod & Ryder). Juvenile facilities offer incentive programs and rehabilitation initiatives for adolescents to promote change and correct wrongdoing. According to, The American Youth Prevention Forum, juvenile facilities offer “cognitive restructuring programs that, among other things, help young people understand thinking errors which get them into trouble; and gradual returns to the community from secure facilities through day treatment which reduces recidivism, results in higher levels of academic achievement and provides more connections to employers.” One can agree that these facilities do not focus on punishment as much as adult prisons do and they’re built to help adolescents not only realize that they have a second chance at life but focus on helping them integrate themselves back in society. In addition, juveniles face a high risk of abuse and cruelty when they end up incarcerated with adult inmates. According to The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, “more than any other group of incarcerated persons, youth incarcerated with adults are probably at the highest risk for sexual abuse.” Allowing juveniles to serve their sentences with adult inmates is allowing them to be in an unsafe environment where they are prone to be abused both mentally and physically. According to the Campaign for Youth Justice, “Youth are frequently locked down 23 hours a day in small cells with no natural light. These conditions can cause anxiety, paranoia, and exacerbate existing mental disorders and put youth at risk of suicide. In fact, youth housed in adult jails are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than are youth housed in juvenile detention facilities.” Ultimately, adolescents placed in adult facilities face abuse due to their vulnerability and weakness and the result of this abuse could make them view suicide as an escape route from the constant mistreatment. Many might disagree and state that placing young offenders with adults might give them an idea of what they don’t want to become and learn from the adult criminals. Although I agree that some adult criminals are able to give adolescents advice on why they should take advantage of their opportunities and turn their lives around, I still maintain that placing adolescents and adult criminals in the same facilities will only negatively affect them. Because of their vulnerability and age, adult criminals often take advantage of adolescents and influence them to do what they say.  According to Jeffrey Fagan, a professor at Columbia University’s School of Public Health, “because they are physically diminutive, juveniles are subject to attack…. They will become somebody’s ‘girlfriend’ very, very fast.” Adult prisons and jails are not equipped to protect young offenders from abuse and mistreatment and it’s not the victim’s fault that they are younger in age and smaller in size than the adult criminals they end up placed with. A 1989 study by a team of professors and researchers compared how juveniles reported being treated at a number of juvenile facilities, with those who served time in adult facilities. The results stated that “14 Five times as many youth held in adult prisons answered yes to the question ‘”has anyone attempted to sexually attack or rape you'” than those held in juvenile institutions. Close to ten percent of the youth interviewed reported a sexual attack, or rape attempt had been levied against them in the adult prisons, while closer to one -percent reported the same in the juvenile institution” (Fagan). This demonstrates that juveniles are subject to attack and abuse  when placed with adult criminals and are better off in juvenile facilities. In conclusion, placing juvenile offenders with adult criminals to serve their time in an adult facility will only make matters worse. By allowing that to happen, society is also allowing mental and physical abuse as well as trauma for the adolescents. Juvenile offenders need rehabilitation in order to succeed and be able to integrate themselves back to society after they serve their time. Not only are they capable of change due to their brain development but by being placed in a juvenile facility they will also be able to put their mistakes behind them and start a new life filled with opportunities.

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