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Applying the appropriate punishment for the atrocity of murder is critical in serving justice to victims and their families. In countries where Capital Punishment is permitted, such as in the United States, teen killers should not be immune to the harsh consequence of their brutal actions. The Juvenile Justice System was introduced to save and restore young offenders. Arguments frequently used to justify juvenile rehabilitation include: reduced mental capacity for juvenile decisionmaking, lack of family structure, abusive childhoods, and other at-risk factors including drastic economic changes. Evidence exists to show that, while the juvenile system and the three strikes law may assist in rehabilitating minor juvenile delinquents and less serious offenders, the system has failed in the attempt to rehabilitate juveniles who commit brutal crimes such as rape and murder. Some juveniles are evil and sadistic in nature and intentionally kill. These juveniles must be held accountable for the severity of their crimes in the same way as adults. How should they be punished? Executing juveniles weighs heavily on the consciousness of society. The tender age of juvenile criminals is the nucleus of the controversy in determining an effective solution to the problem. The Society for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency was founded in the 19th century to rehabilitate juvenile delinquents rather than incarcerate them alongside adult offenders. Juveniles targeted for such protection were those considered at-risk: urban children with no family structure or guidance. Children who fell into this category were considered more likely to adopt a life of crime. The Society for the
Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency appears to have focused only on stereotypical problem children and juvenile delinquents. It has neglected to allow consideration for juvenile delinquents from wealthy and seemingly traditional, secure family backgrounds who intentionally commit violent crime - case in point, the 1989 shotgun killing by the Menendez brothers of their parents. The brothers were not juveniles at the time of the murders, but they were youths. The Menendez brothers blamed parental abuse. Although the motive has not been confirmed, greed may have been a factor. Juveniles and young people from wealthy backgrounds kill. Focusing on the rehabilitation of at-risk children does not include a suitable program for offenders not considered at-risk, and does not help identify what truly causes juveniles to commit violent crimes. Historical events; the agricultural crisis in the Southern US in 1890, which affected Wall Street in 1893, subjected the US to a massive Depression in the late 1890’s, the economic effect being on a par with the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Then came Industrialization, a period of increased productivity and development, which created additional unemployment and overcrowded cities and subsequently led to an increase in crime and corruption. Next came the Progressive Era Reformers, a new middle class structure of young professionals aiming to address society’s problems and stamp out anything they considered to be destructive to society. The Reformers were not concerned with guilt or innocence of juvenile offenders. They believed in rehabilitation and protection of juveniles. They were concerned about the experience juveniles faced when incarcerated in crowded prisons with adult felons. Campaigns by these Reformers led to the first State Juvenile Court assembling in 1899 in Cook County, IL. In the late 1890’s, the majority of crime committed by juveniles was far less aggressive than the violent acts and vicious murders committed by juveniles today, thereby conveying to society that rehabilitation of young offenders has not prevented the viciousness of the crimes from intensifying. By the late 1980’s – early 1990’s, juvenile murder rates had risen even further, elevating concern over the effectiveness of the
juvenile justice system, which has been attacked for being too soft on crime. Psychologists put forward support for juvenile rehabilitation by concluding that those aged under 18 are incapable of making informed decisions, backed by a society which does not permit them to vote, serve on a jury, or enjoy other adult responsibilities. Psychologists maintain the thinking capacity and mentality of juveniles does not parallel that of adults, therefore they should not be subjected to the same harsh punishment. In response, confirmed psychotic tendencies and mental impairment should be the only significant factors taken into account when determining the punishment for any violent offender. Age of the offender should be irrelevant. Mentally impaired violent juveniles should be hospitalized for treatment. Psychotic, violent juveniles fall into the band of offenders whom most likely cannot be rehabilitated, therefore, they, along with all other cognizant juvenile offenders, should meet with the ultimate punishment for their violent crime. Juveniles have demonstrated how capable they are of handling a gun, recognizing right from wrong, planning destruction, and killing intentionally. In 1981, at age 17 and 4 months, Kevin Nigel Stanford repeatedly raped and sodomized a woman during a robbery, and then shot her in the face and back of the head to prevent her from testifying. This brutal act showed his understanding of right from wrong. Stanford’s intentionally brutal crime and clear cognizance of right and wrong are grounds for him, and other juveniles like him, to be tried and punished as adults. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold both demonstrated a sharp mentality, technical knowledge, strong intellect, and the capacity to plan the destruction of students, teachers, and their school at Columbine, in 1999. Their plan was likely ignited by psychotic traits – Harris’ autopsy revealed prescribed mood stabilizer drugs, also known as psychotropic drugs or psychiatric medication, in his brain. Their websites and journals recorded 2 years of in-depth, elaborate planning for their murderous
spree, which included building pipe bombs – something many adults do not know how to do. Both juveniles, Harris and Klebold were fully conscious of their objective and knew how to carry out their plan with meticulous planning, which indicated a mental maturity matching adult capacity. Having psychotic tendencies, both would most likely have killed at some point in their lives. Rehabilitation would probably not have removed the predisposition. Society in general concludes a blanket understanding that those aged under 18 do not have an adult mental aptitude and should be protected by Law. Society does not always make the correct decisions about people and many decisions are based on indiscriminate information such as the results of various studies conducted or psychologist’s reports. Significant evidence of the mental ability of juveniles to painstakingly plan and carry out killings with as much aptitude as adults has been ignored; example: Columbine investigator, Guerra, had 2 years prior knowledge of Eric Harris’ website referencing how he built pipe bombs. Guerra was concerned enough to write a draft affidavit for a search warrant, yet it was never filed, possibly due to Harris’ age. 2 years later, after Harris and Klebold murdered 13 people, not including their own suicides, authorities discovered pipe bombs at the school. In 1999, in Colorado, being in possession of a handgun while under the age of 18 was considered a misdemeanor, yet there was no age restriction correlated to the possession of rifles or shotguns. Between 1996 and 1997, 475 students aged 5-17 were expelled for violating the Gun Free School Act in Colorado. 44 children and teenagers used firearms to shoot and kill during 1996. The United States Department of Education reported, in 1997, almost 6300 students in the US were expelled for carrying firearms to school. Alarmingly, 5-year old children were caught with firearms, yet society has still refused to seriously consider the threat of these sadistic juveniles who are intent on killing with the knowledge they will escape the ultimate punishment due to their young age. The juvenile justice system and juvenile court is a more recent
development in society’s approach to a solution to juvenile crime. In the 18th century, juvenile offenders were tried as adults from the age of 7. A study conducted by Robert E. Shepherd, Law Professor at Richmond University, revealed that, prior to the year 1900, at least 10 children in the US were executed for crimes they committed while under the age of 14. Many juveniles are abused, bullied, and affected by poverty and economic change yet they do not turn to murder as a result. Psychologists examining the tangible at-risk factors they consider to be the cause of juvenile violence should also explore the mental disposition of juveniles to determine their psychotic inclination. Some mental disorders are not related to economic trend or environmental factors, and not all juveniles can be rehabilitated.
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