Should juvenile offenders be sentenced to prison if they commit the same crime as adults?


by Andres Ramirez

            It was Saturday morning; my mother was doleful, but thrilled at the same time, like the home remedy she gives me when I’m sick. The mixture was honey and lime, bitter and sweet to get rid of the sore throat. My parents and I were headed to the youth detention center where my brother was located after he got in trouble with the police for public intoxication at his short 14 years of age. I was nervous and I didn’t know what to expect. As we got in to the correctional facility we were led to a back room after having to go through three security doors. We finally stumbled upon my brother and my mother immediately ran towards him to give him a hug and cry on his shoulder. After my mother composed herself, we were able to sit down and talk. I could see the desperation in my brother’s face without him saying a word. I couldn’t do anything else, but let the tears come down my cheeks and let them hit my thighs like rocks as I was sitting. He desperately said, “I want to get out of here, I can’t stand being here, and I feel like an animal.” He told my parents and me how bad it was inside the correctional facility for him, witnessing other inmates fighting over a piece of bread. This might not be an adult prison, but juveniles are encountering these types of physical confrontations at youth correctional centers. If they have these confrontations at youth facilities I can’t imagine how juveniles would put up with confrontations at an adult prison. Juveniles should not be tried as adults when they commit the same, because their brain has not been fully or normally developed and rehabilitation can provide better results for the juveniles’ futures.

One of the reasons why juveniles should not be tried as adults is because I know their brain has not been fully developed; they are too young to understand. For example, a news report from CNN talked about an eight-year-old boy who shot and killed his grandmother (Phillip and Sidner). I am sure that and eight year old wouldn’t know how to handle a gun, so why should he be tried as an adult for something he didn’t know any better? “He’s distraught. It’s really taken a toll on him. He looks visibly shaken,” said East Feliciana Parish District Attorney Samuel D’Aquilla (qtd. in Phillip and Sidner). The eight year old did not know what he did wrong.  According to the article, Arrested Development, by Lizzie Buchen, during body development, the brain undergoes large-scale structural changes (Buchen par. 8). This means that while their neurons are developing, their behavior and emotional characteristics are being affected, and go through changes as well (Buchen par. 9). This makes it reasonable to say that a juveniles’ brain is not the same as an adults’. Buchen’s article also states that the juveniles’ brain develops a reward system faster, than it develops decision-making and impulse control (Buchen par. 10). So, I say if their impulse control has not been fully developed than this means that when juveniles are pressured to commit a crime they would do it because they don’t generally think about the outcome, just like how it happened to my brother.

Not only is the juveniles’ brain not fully developed, but there are instances in which juveniles who committed a crime are mentally ill (Ferris). A juvenile state correctional facility in San Francisco, California, mistreated juvenile offenders with bipolar disorders because of their mental illness; the juveniles were placed in solitary confinement for one-hundred days (Ferris). Not only were they kept away from the rest of the juveniles and going outside, but they were also kept from getting an education. They were kept in solitary confinement just because they had physical confrontations with other youth, which were triggered by their mental illness. These youth were in correctional facilities because the court believed that it would actually benefit them, and would become a path to treating the juveniles’ illness. Many people would oppose to this for example lawyer Laura Faer. “These are kids. We have a chance here to help them,” Public Counsel Lawyer Laura Faer said “But they are pretty much stealing children’s futures” (qtd. in Ferris).  Others may argue and say that if the juveniles were able to commit the crime they should be punished. What people who oppose do not see is that these youths brain is not capable of understanding if they took the right decision or not. Putting the juveniles in solitary confinement is not the way to treat bipolar disorder, in fact any disorder.

If a juveniles’ brain has not been fully developed, why should they be sent to an adult prison with adults who have a fully developed brain, and can think of deviant things that a juvenile cannot? One thing that can be done is placing the juveniles in rehabilitation. In my opinion rehabilitation is another, yet better way to treat juvenile offenders. When juveniles commit the same crime as an adult they should not be tried as an adult, because once they are out of the system they are completely lost in this mainstream society (Darbouze 109 ). “Rehabilitation is practical because some rehabilitative methods addresses the personal needs of juvenile delinquents and gives juvenile delinquents realistic options to make it in society without having to recidivate” (Darbouze 109). So, why are juveniles still placed in adult prisons? Some of the treatments that rehabilitation provides are: group therapy, group housing, and family therapy (Darbouze 110). In my opinion what these treatments all have in common is that they are all family oriented. I feel that they provide a friendly environment for the juveniles to feel comfortable and be able to freely express themselves. Therefore, be able to find the root of the problem that caused them to commit a crime.

Luckily my brother was not sent to an adult prison and was able to get rehabilitated. With one of the treatments rehabilitation provides, counseling, my brother has improved for the better and not just mentally, but physically as well. Every time my parents and I speak with my brothers’ psychiatrist, we don’t hear anything else but wonderful things about how his behavior and way of thinking has changed. I know that this cannot be obtained in an adult prison because the juveniles would just be exposed to nothing but pure violence. It’s time to help and make a big positive impact on the youth of the United States; those who have fallen into the world of crime. Let’s help them and not just place them in “time out” for a long period of time thinking that after that everything will be okay.  

Works Cited

Buchen, Lizzie. “Science in Court: Arrested Development.” Nature 484.7394 (2012): 304-306. Web. 26 Sep. 2013.

Darbouze, Kelie. “Rehabilitative Methods and the Effect on Juvenile Delinquents.” University of Maryland. University of Maryland. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.

Ferris, Susan. “Suit alleges mistreatment of California minors with mental health problems.” Public Integrity. The Centers for Public Integrity, 12 Aug. 2013 Web. 26 Sep. 2013.

Phillips, Rich, and Sara Sidner. “8-year-old who shot grandmother to continue living at home. get counseling.” CNN, 27 Aug. 2013. Web. 23 Sep. 2013.

Ramirez, Ulises. Personal Interview. 25 11 2013.


8 thoughts on “Should juvenile offenders be sentenced to prison if they commit the same crime as adults?

  1. I think the reason some kids are tried as adults and put in adult prisons is simply because it’s hard to handle a child like that. Clearly raising them so far has not prevented a horrible crime, and so why would rehabilitation help? I only say this because sometimes rehabilitation doesn’t work.

    Regardless, I must say that rehabilitation is at least putting the effort to keep these children mentally healthy and non-violent. Putting a child in a prison is the same as giving up on them, and it just lets them now that we don’t expect them to ever improve, to ever be a normal citizen and to get a long in every day society. When you tell a child that, they’re going to believe it and they certainly aren’t going to try to prove anybody wrong. Rehabilitation although may not be one hundred percent effective, it will be more effective than prisons by far considering prisons only make it worse.

  2. Its hard to comment on something like this because you could really go either way. One, you could just use the rehabilitation strategy like you stated. Or, prison is the other option. In the article, you stated that these juveniles’ brains are undeveloped and that they don’t understand what they were doing was wrong. But, every individual is different, meaning people mature differently. Which is why there are actually some juveniles that are tried as adults at the age of 14 or 15 and others are sent to rehab. Personally, I think that either way they are tried, there is going to be trouble because there is one side that says that prison doesn’t work because it “hardens” these juveniles and turns them into career criminals. The other side will say that rehab doesn’t work because the punishment isn’t severe enough and the juvenile won’t get the message that they did something wrong. In my eyes, its really a no-win situation.

  3. I think the problem here is that you’re looking at very young kids – 14 or 15 or younger. These aren’t the kids who would be getting into adult prisons – in fact, most of them aren’t in juvenile correction facilities at that age, because it’s just too difficult to adapt them to that environment. My father has worked in the correctional facility in Kearney for over 20 years now, and the problem youth there are always the older ones who have gained more power and sway in the gangs where the youth are coming from, because the other youth will always do what those older, more powerful youth tell them to do.. They are the ones who would be going to adult prisons, because there at least they could be contained and they wouldn’t cause disruptions for all the rest of the youth/inmates.

  4. I believe once a person hits the age 15 we know the difference between right and wrong. We know its not right to kill or hurt or rob or damage people property. I do not believe teenagers should spend time in juvenile detentions centers and then life in prisons, but they should at least do a couple months in the prisons to see if that is the life they want to take on. They could be top dog in the juvenile detention and then get out and be as if no one can touch them, but if they go straight into the prisons for a little, they will get their attitude adjusted real quick.

  5. I think that juvenile offenders should not be sent to prison. I believe that if a juvenile commits a crime, i think that they should be sent to an alternative program. I also think that sending younger offenders to prison only toughens them up. This was well written, and very interesting.

  6. As a psych major, I usually agree with people who believe that therapy works. Sending juveniles to therapy instead of prison (or other correctional facilities) seems like a great solution to the problem today. Therapy provides a multitude of things that prison does not offer. For example, therapy can help you change your way of thinking and, ultimately, it can change your life if you’re headed down a dangerous path. You argue some good points in this article and I wholly agree that juveniles do not belong in adult prisons. I also like the personal touch you added to this, the fact that your brother went through it made your blog even more intriguing.

  7. In my other class we actually had a judge as a guest speaker. He talked about this exact issue and how he uses peoples ages to sentence them. He said that he is more likely to let the kids “get off the hook” easier because he doesn’t believe that some of these 18 and 19 years old kids know what they are doing compared to a 30 years old person.

  8. I think that juvenile offenders should not be sent to prison. I think that they should be sent to an alternative program. I also think the child should be put in a foster home because there current parents have done a terrible job raising them and should be charged with neglect.

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