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Kameron Chase
Ms. Gardner
English 10H, 2
3 May 2014
Wasted Lives: Processing Juveniles in the Adult Court System
Thousands of people across the United States are rotting in jail because of crimes they
committed when they were younger. Right now teenagers are being prosecuted in the adult court
system. These people have been prosecuted to the full extent of the law for what could have been
a simple lapse in judgement. Should juveniles be prosecuted as adults? Men and women are
suffering in jail when they could be a contributing to society instead of wasting the governments
money. SB 999 is a bill that allows life sentences for young offenders, but provides an
opportunity for parole after 25 years (Weinstein). This bill is an attempt to allow for a chance of
rehabilitations for minors charged with life in prison. When prosecuting young offenders the
judge of the case should make an educated decision on whether or not he or she should be tried
as an adult not only on the severity of the crime but on all factors: the subjects psychological
state, the subjects home life, and the possibilities for the subjects life after prison.
Many people might argue that children above the age of 13 are capable of understanding
the consequences of their actions. Since 1992 every state has made it easier to try juveniles as
adults except Nebraska. Most states have even allowed life sentences for these juvenile
delinquents (Elias). In 2001 there was a study in Minnesota that clearly showed that most
juveniles in adult prisons had committed extremely violent crimes (Miller). Research by the
United States Justice system has shown that many young violent offenders are on a path that
leads to the inside of a jail cell. Adrian Raine, a psychologist at the University of Southern
California who studies criminal behavior, says long term studies of highly aggressive children
suggest that some are headed for a life of violent crime (qtd. Elias). If they are going to
reoffend, logic dictates that they should be locked up before they can do more damage. Instead of
wasting the courts time over and over they should be locked up before they cause serious injury
to themselves or others. If these juveniles are old enough to make these wrong decisions they
should be able to take responsibility for their actions. The problem is many young adults do not
think through every decision they make.
Yes, 13-year-olds are capable of making their own decisions. Yes, they should be mature
enough to understand the consequences of their actions. However, there are many different
reasons that a teenager could make a poor decision. Psychological instability can cause poor
decision making. If a child is pressured into choosing a wrong path can greatly affect how one
individual could make the right decision. Many teenagers make poor decisions because of
outside influences that they have no control of.
Psychological instability in young adults can cause their ability to make the right decision
to be impaired; making the wrong decision can result in prison. In the case of Miller v. Alabama,
the court decided not to strike down with a life without parole sentence due to mental stability
(Lavy). In 80 percent of these cases studies have shown a lack of treatment for psychological
trauma (Lavy). According to the research from the Miller trial, most of the young violent crime
offenders have some sort of psychological distress that can greatly affect their decision making
process. Which will make the likelihood of them committing a crime rise dramatically. The
connection between psychological instability
and poor decision making is clearly linked to 80 percent of the documented juvenile
cases; ignoring the mental state of the defendant can cause a young child to go to prison when all
they need is mental help. Sentences for young adults should include psychological help for those
who need it. In summation, Teenagers that are undergoing psychological distress have a greater
chance of committing a violent crime, and they should not be punished for their lack of
Furthermore, children exposed to overwhelming violence and terror in their home life
have a higher chance of choosing a life of crime. Jody Kent Lavy, a researcher, found of the
current juveniles in the adult court system most are exposed daily to violence in and around their
home (Lavy). Stewart Greenleaf, a United States Senator, states that studies have shown that
when a child is exposed to violence they have a higher chance of acting out in society (qtd.
Clark). In particular, many of these violent offenders have suffered abusive relationships in their
households (Ryan). The studies documented by Stewart Greenleaf clearly show that on average a
child with theses outside conditions are twice as likely to become violent. Obviously children
that experience violence on a daily basis have a higher chance of acting out against the law
giving them a greater risk in ending up in the adult court system. Over exposure to violence in
young adults can cause them to be more prone to violence than those that are exposed to less
violence. In summation, these teenagers need to be re-educated or undergo thorough counselling
instead of punished for their actions, their punishments need to be more focused on mental
Ultimately, when Juveniles are placed in adult prisons their likelihood to be a benefit to
society diminishes greatly as soon as they are sentenced; their sentences should focus on
rehabilitation rather than maximizing punishment. To illustrate, criminologists state that study
after study shows that when a teenager is placed into an adult prison their chances of becoming a
reoffender increases immensely
(Ryan). Even more importantly, they are the most at risk for sexual assault, abuse, and suicide
inside the adult prison which can cause them to become more aggressive in the future (Ryan). 26
states have decided that life sentences for juveniles should be deemed unconstitutional due to the
fact that they are basically a prolonged death sentence (Clark). A majority of the Supreme Court
Justices believe that teenagers should not be dealt life sentences unless there are extreme
circumstances (Clark). Teenagers need to be returned from the justice system as a functional
member of society or they will continue to cause trouble until they are put back into jail which
causes more taxation and less members to improve society. The young mind has a great ability to
change, so if punishment for juveniles is focused on counseling and education they are more
likely to rejoin society and be a positive contributing member. Long sentences in adult prisons
can cause young adult to become re-offenders and less helpful members of society, instead of
reforming the specific individual. The goal of prison is to rehabilitate its prisoners, so for young
offenders their sentences need to be based on: improvement in knowledge of the law and
psychological help. If the point of prison is to rehabilitate its inmates, juveniles should not be
sent to them because it hinders their rehabilitation process.
In conclusion, when sentencing juveniles, all apparent factors must be observed:
psychologic state, outside influences, likelihood to become a useful member of society. To many
young adults, being prosecuted in adult prisons can cause much higher taxes and a less functional
society. Young adults should be contributing to society instead of rotting away in a state
penitentiary. In order to improve the criminal justice system Judges must be granted discretion
when they are faced with a teenager committing a serious crime.

Work Cited
Clark, Maggie. "States Reconsider Juvenile Life Sentences." 29 Jul. 2012:
n.p. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.
Elias, Marilyn. "Is Adult Prison Best for Juveniles?." USA TODAY. Sept. 21 2006: n.p. SIRS
Issues Researcher. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.
Lavy, Jody Kent. "A Sentence No Child Deserves." Washington Post. 28 Jun. 2013: A.19.
SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.
Miller, Carol Marbin. "Kids Killing Kids Tests Justice System." McClatchy Newspapers.
Jan. 20 2008: n.p. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.
Ryan, Liz. "Trying Youths As Adults Hurts Families and Taxpayers, but Not Crime."
Christian Science Monitor. 02 May. 2012: n.p. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 17 Apr.
Weinstein, Henry. "Focus on Youth Sentences." Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA).
Nov. 19 2007: n.p. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.