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In order to determine an appropriate sentence for a 17-year-old youth who committed an armed robbery, I would first need to study the offender's criminal history. Whether the offender had a history of escalating offenses as a juvenile, the offender's prior history of punishment and treatment, and the offender's family background would all play important roles in helping me determine an appropriate punishment for the offender. Because each of these factors plays an important role in determining the youth's intent, the possibility of rehabilitation, and the youth's future dangerousness, I will approach sentencing based on three differing scenarios: no criminal history, mid-level criminal history combined with increasing family dysfunction, and extensive criminal history and complete disruption of the nuclear family system. Furthermore, before sentencing any offender convicted of a violent offense, I would have that offender submit to a complete psychological examination in order to rule out or identify mental disease, substance abuse, and other factors that may contribute to criminal behavior, but that are not necessarily adequately addressed by the criminal justice system. For the purposes of this paper, I have determined that the youth in question does not have any organic mental diseases, but may or may not have substance abuse problems.
For a youth whose first offense was armed robbery, I would recommend a combination of incarceration in juvenile detention facility, victim-impact interviews, job-skills training, life-skills training, any applicable counseling, and an extensive period of probation after incarceration, which would include mandatory employment, community service hours, and continuation of any counseling began while in the detention facility. My recommendations for the youth with mid-level criminal history and a history of increasing family dysfunction would be the same as for the first-offender, except that I would attempt to implement family counseling for those members willing to go, make alternative housing arrangements for the offender post-sentencing, and require more extensive counseling and life-skills training for the youth both during and after incarceration. For the youth with the extensive and escalating criminal history, I would impose the same sentence; however, instead of sending him to a juvenile facility, I would sentence him to six months to ten years in an adult penal facility. If his behavior in the facility was satisfactory, I would transfer him from the adult penal facility to a facility that allowed him to work as a trustee.
The reason that all of the youths would actually be incarcerated and not just receive probated sentences is because of the use of a weapon during the commission of the offense. The fact that the weapon was not loaded does not lessen the severity of the offense. Armed offenses are dangerous because they increase the risk that human life will be lost. A weapon does not have to be capable of inflicting actual harm in order to increase that risk because the presence of a weapon increases the likelihood of violence by victims as well as perpetrators. For example, when the offender took the gun into the store, he did so without knowing who was in the store and whether any of them were armed. The customers and the salesclerks all could have been armed and could have reacted by using their own weapons to escape a situation where they believed their lives were in danger. The risks to innocent bystanders, sales people, and the offender himself were greatly increased by the fact that the offender used a weapon that observers would have believed was a deadly weapon. Therefore, in order to demonstrate the seriousness of using a weapon during an offense to the offender and to discourage armed robbery, whether or not the gun is loaded, it is necessary for the offender to receive a period of actual incarceration. For the escalating offender, it is clear that detention in juvenile facilities has not previously been sufficient to deter criminal behavior, which is why I would recommend "shock" incarceration in an adult facility. Hopefully, by demonstrating to the escalating offender that things just get worse with increasing criminality, I can salvage the ability to rehabilitate that offender.
Furthermore, incarceration is necessary in order to force the offender to comply with mandatory treatment programs, job-skills training, life-skills training, and counseling. Even in a heavily supervised probation or parole environment, an offender has a tremendous amount of discretion and liberty. In order to help rehabilitate an offender, it is necessary to treat any underlying causes of criminal behavior, such as substance abuse problems, lack of life skills, and anger-management issues. Forcing an offender to engage in such programs while incarcerated gives the inmate a better chance at intervention because they are not faced with the choice of whether to attend job skills training or whether to attempt another robbery; they are physically prevented from attempting the other robbery.
The first treatment program that each youth would be forced to undergo would be a substance-abuse treatment, if applicable. The reason that substance-abuse treatment would be the primary goal is threefold: withdrawal, culpability, and availability. Obviously, some substance-abusers are so addicted that they experience physical withdrawal when undergoing detoxification; therefore concerns for the offender's physical safety dictate that a medically-supervised detoxification is necessary, when indicated. Second, the use and abuse of substances helps an offender escape reality and avoid taking personal responsibility, therefore ending reliance on substances is important in helping an offender accept culpability for his crime. Finally, it is widely known that substances are available in detention facilities, and by separating incoming inmates from the general population and treating their substance abuse problems first, there is the hope that those offenders that have abused substances in the past will be able to resist that temptation once introduced into the general population.
The second-most important part of treatment is to teach the offender job and life-skills. The first part of a life-skills assessment is to determine the offender's educational level and abilities and to require that inmate to fulfill his educational potential. For an offender that is mentally challenged, this may involve teaching skills that make that offender employable once released from incarceration. Choices here include those offered in a typical career-school environment, such as food services. For higher functioning offenders, I would make completion of a g.e.d. mandatory and require them to learn mid-level skills, such as those offered by typical certification programs. For those offenders with the greatest capabilities, I would require them to complete a g.e.d. And college-level coursework. By giving an offender, especially a low-functioning offender that may otherwise have had a difficult time finding employment, an identifiable set of work-skills, I would be giving that offender a way to make a living that does not involve criminal behavior.
In addition, many offenders in the juvenile system lack the life-skills necessary for a non-criminal lifestyle. For those offenders, I would make sure that they left incarceration with the skills necessary to maintain a household. By making the offenders capable of caring for themselves, I believe I would reduce their dependence on other people and increase the likelihood that they would turn away from the influences that led them into criminal behavior. Counseling goes hand-in-hand with life-skills training, because both teach an offender what is normal and how to achieve normal. For example, an offender that was sexually abused may not have committed a robbery because of that sexual abuse, but may have a distorted vision of the appropriate roles of adults and children in families and homes. Even if the offender never sexually abuses, failing to provide treatment for that abuse sets the offender up for future criminal behavior.
The third-part of treatment is to involve the offender with victims. By demonstrating to an offender that victims are not parts of an amorphous group, but actual living people with real feelings, I hope to discourage future…[continue]
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