Kirsten Shew A Juvenile’s Right to Change Making mistakes is part of human nature and the progression of self-identity. People do it all of the time, and among people even children make mistakes. Sometimes, the degree of the mistake is minor and other times it is disturbingly extensive. Either way, a punishment is almost mandatory and in the case of an extensive punishment life imprisonment is only too often considered and acted upon.
Shutting a child away in prison should be out of the question for three main reasons: they have a chance at rehabilitation, such an immense degree of punishment is unconstitutional and juveniles are in no way the same as adults. As a teen, you are most vulnerable to the shaping of beliefs, identity and viewpoints. Currently, there are over 2,500 individuals serving life without parole due to a crime they committed when they were as young as 13. When you send a child to prison for life, they arrive there just as that – a child.
They are vulnerable and they are frightened. Change, for them, seems like the best decision in the world at that moment and later in their future it could be the best choice they had made. Teen offenders who commit mass crimes such as homicide or battery are often sentenced to an adult prison instead of a juvenile rehabilitation center. In an adult prison, a juvenile learns the ways of these older peers who have the extreme power to influence them and teach them the ways of a true criminal.
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In a juvenile rehabilitation center, they are surrounded by other teens that had committed crimes relatable to theirs and are influenced by other’s desires to change and become a real member of society. In an article by Steven Silverman, he talks about case of Zachary Watson and Emmanuel Miller who had both committed what was to believe a hate crime and had both asked to be sent to juvenile court. Miller’s wish had been granted and Watson’s had been refuted.
In adult prison, Watson was stabbed and repeatedly harassed while Miller, in juvenile prison, received his GED, played on the football team and obtained amazing observations from his teachers. In another case, there was a boy, Scott Fillipi, who shot his mother and after he was released from prison he joined the army and became a member of the Presidential Honor Guard. Also, Charles Dutton killed a person at the age of 17 and is now an award winning actor-producer. Based on where hey spend their sentence, in a rehabilitation center or an adult prison, it will determine how well the individual will progress. In Missouri they constructed a juvenile system where, after leaving, only 8 percent of juveniles ended up back in prison. Rehabilitation offers children another chance to right their wrongs and become a real member of society. The eighth amendment of the U. S constitution states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. In 1999, Kuntrell Jackson robbed a video store with his friends and soon found out his friend had murdered the store clerk with a shotgun. He was 14 years old and was sentenced to life without parole even though he was not the shooter; the shooter received life with the possibility of parole. Rodrigo Caballero was a diagnosed schizophrenic and gang member who had shot three rival gang members and was condemned to 110 years in prison. To send a child away from society, their friends, and their family and shut them away for the rest of their life is callous and unnecessary.
Putting them into an adult prison is like offering the prisoners fresh meat; the juvenile would likely be handed over to sexual predators and no child, no matter the crime committed, should have to go through something so horrendous. They are more likely to get beat, raped or commit suicide in adult prison than through the juvenile justice system. If it were a 53 year old man who had viciously murdered another human being, to lock him away for the rest of his life is adequate. Since a 53 year old man is far beyond the ripeness of growing mentally, he is unlikely to ever come back from that mental state that left him to take a life.
There was a study held by The Human Rights Watch and The American Civil Liberties Union that showed that many of the young prisoners admitted to struggling with hallucinations, anxiety and depression while in the adult prisons. The more humane act of punishment would be to send them to a juvenile justice system where they would be offered counseling and mental health services. One crime does not define who the child is and their beliefs and desires. They do not deserve to have their positive mental health forced from them when it should be preserved by the people who are supposed to protect them, not put them in harm’s way.
The correction officials have a duty to protect us and the responsibility to save the future generations from everlasting scarring when they are put in the hands of the adult justice system and still have so much to offer the world. If someone has the capability to be rehabilitated, then why would another person take that chance away from them? When people think of adults, they often imagine somebody who is mature and sophisticated and someone who has seen the world for what it is.
But, when people think of adolescents they think of someone who is ripe in their education, immature, prone to influence and just mentally different than an adult. Just because an adolescent commits an atrocious crime does not infer that they are any more grown up than any other child their age. Young children are more likely to break rules and act on impulses than adults; they have a lower sense of responsibility and are completely vulnerable to peer pressure. When they decide to commit a crime, when their yearning to break the law exceeds its limits, they are usually unaware of the consequences that will be brought on by their crime.
Being sent into an adult prison is no doubt hard for adults, but for a child it’s almost unbearable, which is why they commonly resort to ending their life. A study by the University of California shows that “teens often lack the social and emotional maturity to control impulses” and “emotional maturity isn’t attained till after 22. ” Kids who commit crimes are more frequently being tried as adults and being sent into adult prisons where they will be faced with rape, assault, peer pressure and negative influences.
Being that children are more prone to influences than adults, because they are so unaware of the consequences of certain actions, they would be more susceptible to take on the ways of adult offenders and their chance at righting their wrongs in an adult prison is slim to none. Teen offenders would be forced to spend the majority of their life in a prison cell when they still have room in their souls to grow and prove their morality. Allowing a convicted criminal back into society is no doubt risky and for some people it is an immense idea to be open to.
There is always a chance that the juvenile would relapse in a way and go back to their life of crime. Or, maybe they would spread their past experiences on to other vulnerable children and open their minds to the idea that violence is the way to solve problems. Then again, there is always the chance that they might not. How would anybody ever know what kind of change a person is capable of if they’re not offered the chance to prove themselves? If an adult had come from an adult prison that they had been in since they were a teen, the likeliness of them returning to their previous way of life is extremely likely.
If they’re not offered counseling or mental health services when they are younger and more prone to influence, then they would know no other way of life than that of the one in adult prison. A person who commits a crime should no doubt be held responsible and serve time, no matter what their age or excuse is. A child is so inclined to change, that they should serve time in a place that allows them to change. Maybe, they wouldn’t change at all being placed in a juvenile rehabilitation center, but because everyone is different every child deserves a second chance at life to prove themselves worthy of being a part of society.
A changed person, who had once been part of the dark side of reality, could prove a role model to other children who had made mistakes. Raphael Johnson started a community policing program and received his bachelor’s and master’s degree with honors after being released from prison for shooting and killing a classmate when he was 17. He even ran for public office. Charles Dutton became an award winning actor-producer after quitting school when he was 12 years old and committed manslaughter.
This is not saying that committing an exorbitant crime is okay because the convict will back to normal again when they’re released; it is saying that people are capable of amazing feats and have the ability to turn their life around. They just need the chance to prove so. Juveniles do not deserve to spend their whole life in prison. No matter what they did. Because of their ability to accomplish significant change and their ability to be influenced more than adults, they still have a chance at rehabilitation, it will always be unconstitutionally wrong and they are not the same as adults just because they committed a crime.
To lock a child away for the rest of their life is immoral and cruel, but to send them away to a rehabilitation center where they can still be punished by forcing them to face what they have done and yet still receive counseling to deal with their problems and set them straight is a much more sensible approach. If more juvenile delinquents were to be dealt with in juvenile court, instead of adult court, society would have gained another person who now knows the consequences of certain actions and would be looked to as a role model for change. Do not neglect them of a punishment, but allow them an opportunity at a transformation.
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