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Julia Kefalinos Julia Kefalinos
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Why It’s Wrong To Charge Juveniles In Adult Courts

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The American criminal justice system has come a long way—although in some ways it seems to be taking a page from the past.  There was a time that everyone was treated exactly the same by the system—regardless of gender, mental illness, or age.  Anyone convicted of a crime was sent to the same place, until the problems with such a system were recognized and changes were slowly undertaken. The early 1800’s finally saw the establishment of the New York House of Refuge for juvenile offenders with a goal to educate and rehabilitate children who’d been convicted of criminal offenses.  Not until 1899, though, was the first juvenile court established. But the level of judicial discretion resulted in uneven treatment for juveniles, and finally in the 1970’s Congress passed the Juvenile and Delinquency Prevention Act in an effort to level the playing field for juveniles across the spectrum.  Even so, more than 10,000 juveniles under the age of 18 are currently serving time along with adults in adult prisons throughout the nation. The call to try children as adults is rising.  But is it the right thing to do? There are many strong arguments against such actions.

What About Children who Commit Violent Crimes? 

The news is filled with stories of under-age individuals committing horrendous crimes that shock the conscience.  Why shouldn’t society lock them up and throw away the key?  Opponents of tossing children into the adult system cite a number of factors worth considering:

  1. Perhaps the most salient argument against trying children as adults if the undisputed fact that the brains of juveniles are not fully developed. Is it fair and appropriate to hold them to the same standards of accountability as adults when their neurobiology puts them at a distinct disadvantage in terms of understanding the consequences of their actions?
  2. In conjunction with the first point, consider the charter of the family court: to act in the best interest of the child.  Children should be given every opportunity to rehabilitate, not locked away with adult criminals.
  3. What happens when children do not get the help they need? They are more likely to recidivate.  Options available in the juvenile court system include counseling and curfews.  The adult system is simply not geared to the needs of young offenders.
  4. Juvenile offenders can truly start over because their records are sealed, giving them the opportunity for a fresh start with no prejudgments.
  5. The risks to juveniles in the adult system are greater.  Often they must be kept in solitary confinement until they are old enough to mix with the general population.  That alone increases the chances of suicide by 40-fold.
  6. Children who are tried in the adult system do not get the benefit of a jury of their peers, since children do not make up part of the jury pool.  Youth as young as nine or ten years old will be judged by adults who do not see the world in the same way a child might.

Fighting for Justice for the Youngest Offenders 

Is your child being charged with criminal activity?  Is there a possibility that the case will be moved to adult court?  You should know that at The Law Office of Julia Kefalinos, our Miami juvenile crime attorneys are committed to achieving the best possible results for children involved in the criminal justice system.  There are many options out there—and we will fight on your child’s behalf.  Contact our office to schedule a confidential consultation today.

Resource:

americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/childrens-rights/articles/2016/should-juveniles-be-charged-as-adults/

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