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Children Tried as Adults
Tennessee Code Annotated or TCA 37-1-134 provides for the transfer of the jurisdiction of a child offender from the juvenile court to a criminal court for trial as an adult, depending on the offender's age, gravity of offense, prior delinquency records, past treatment and the offender's response. In the last decade, tens of thousands of youngsters less than 17 and as young as 10 years old have been processed through America's criminal justice system (White 1998). Hard and vindictive politicians are behind it in proving their toughness off by arguing that these very young offenders perform "adult time for adult crimes (White)." Statistics actually show only a minimal rise in violent crimes committed by juveniles in the U.S. since the 80s. But recent shootings and other crimes in schools in Kentucky, Arkansas and Pennsylvania roused the distorted enthusiasm of some politicians to condemn these young people as unchangeable criminals of a new and violent breed of "predators" rather than looking into what society has done wrong and produced such behavior in them. The majority of the states in the Union have adopted judicial waiver processes that allow such transfer as the result of widespread of public outrage at the rising incidence of serious crimes and the young age of offenders. Some states have reduced the age requirement, some have none at all. Others have opted for a "blended sentencing," which offers rehabilitation to a willing offender or adult sentencing if he or she refuses. Options keep coming up in response to society's need for security against this new breed of young but violent law violators. But treating or trying juvenile offenders like adult does not seem to work.
Review of Literature.
Rutgers (2002) writes that most states provide for judicial waiver or concurrent jurisdiction in transferring cases from juvenile to criminal courts, but half of all juvenile cases passed on do not merit tough sentences. Most of them are dismissed. In Florida alone, only 20% waived were never prosecuted and more than half of those prosecuted were not sentenced to prisons or jailed.
A case study conducted by the Justice Policy Institute on Florida's experience on trying juveniles as adults (2002) shows that the state heads the list in sending young people to prison, it has one of the highest crime rates in the country and that young offenders sent to the adult system commit more crimes.
Aronson (2001) writes about the separate justice system for juveniles and for adults and the "blended sentencing" approach. His study on outcomes of the separate system shows that it does not work. His study asks how the young offender should be treated and where he should be confined while on trial. It also stresses radical changes if the blended sentencing approach should be applied in a State.
R Teichroeb (2000) quotes Psychology professor Lawrence Steinberg as saying that the maturity gap between the ages of 11 and 17 should be pivotal in dealing with young offenders. At this period, the young are not capable of looking ahead to the consequences of their acts at present and, therefore, incapable of standing trial for these acts.
White (1998) identifies the Violent Youth Predator Act of 1997 as a bill sponsored by Republicans in Congress, which would mandate the adult prosecution of children, as young as 13; hold parents criminally responsible for their children's acts; make juvenile records accessible to the public; and allow young offenders to be housed with adult prisoners. It also says the Supreme Court has ruled that the execution of offenders as young as 16 is not a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. It adds that the vast majority of youngsters in the juvenile and criminal justice systems are victims of poverty.
Gilberti (1998) relates how a five-year-old kindergarten pupil went on a rampage, bit her teacher and was arrested and charged with felony and how it reflects the extent to which schools have adopted the policy of the American political and legal establishment. It illustrated the levels of social polarization and the official indifference, which have been reached in the U.S. The behavior of the kindergarten pupil symbolized the social problems, which got ingrained in her
Rhodes (1996) discusses how a number of states have made it easier to throw young people to jail and how the scramble for transfers from juvenile to criminal courts was prompted by older gang members' use of younger members to elude the law. The author also names some of these states' options in dealing with or rehabilitating young offenders.
LaVelle (1994) writes that, while overall violent crime leveled off in the last decade, the number of arrests of under age 18 went up. He quotes the New York Times in a recent series on youth violence as saying that the current kiddie-crime wave traversed across racial, class and geographic limits. Public outrage focuses on the offenders' young age and the brutality of their offenses or crimes and, thus, demands that their cases be tried in criminal courts and they be treated as adult offenders whose sentence can be as severe as that of an adult.
Method -- the study will use the normative-descriptive research design in recording, describing, interpreting, and analyzing information gathered from authoritative sources, such as law periodicals, newspapers, websites and a case study.
Findings and Discussion
The majority of States have adopted procedures of transferring the trial of young offenders from the juvenile to criminal courts owing to an avalanche of public outrage over the recent increase in the incidence of violent crimes committed by these offenders, mostly below 18. There is a clamor for security against this new breed of law violators and the response is this transfer of jurisdiction from juvenile to criminal courts. Has this approach worked, however?
Statistics also show that, each year, there are more than 750,000 delinquency cases in America and that the huge majority of those young offenders in juvenile and criminal justice systems are victims of poverty (White 1998). Of this number, 30% suffered from some mental disorder, 75% of the girls and 50% of the boys as victims of sexual assaults. Getting tough towards them and trying them as adults have proved to be an end in itself. The harsh approach has been a quick way of getting rid of these young violators, a panicky response to the increase in the commission of serious violence by younger people. It should be remembered that the juvenile justice system separates a child, who has not developed morally, emotionally or intellectually, as opposed to a grownup who has. Unlike the grownup, the child is still impressionable and can be rehabilitated or re-habituated, remodeled and led to change his or her ways. The grownup has the moral obligation to make the child a better person (White).
University of Virginia Law professor Richard Redding wrote in the April 1999 issue of Corrections Today (White 1998) that this radical approach does not seem to work. His surveys showed that juveniles who were sent through the adult system got released sooner and tended to re-offend faster and in greater numbers, as compared with those tried through the juvenile system. Juries and judges are more lenient with these young offenders and adult jails become their environment rather than one of nurturing influences, such as family, friends, school and church, which pre-existed in their lives.
The feverish response to the high incidence of violence committed by young people has led to that transfer and their treatment as adults, but the system does not make sense or work (Aranson 2001). A flexible system of sentencing demands that their cases be tried in juries in open courtrooms where rules of procedure and evidence can be followed, rather than the current practice…[continue]
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