Juveniles in the Adult Justice System
It is often seen in the media these days more juveniles are committing serious crimes. Even more often now, we see these adolescents tried and punished as adults. Many are against this practice, but it is actually a smart decision. Often times the adolescent can rectify themselves, as seen in the case of Greg Ousley. A teenager who is capable of perpetrating horrible crimes should be able to handle, and be held accountable for, the punishment that comes along with them.
Even though these adolescents may not be completely mature at the time of the crime, they are mentally, emotionally, and physically capable of making adult decisions and for that reason deserve adult consequences. With many of these cases, in which a juvenile does something horrendous such as murder, it is not a mistake or lapse in judgment. It seems kids convicted of these crimes have a desire to commit them. In the case of a teenager murdering a woman and her husband in Chicago, Jenkins says, “… he just wanted to ‘see what it would feel like to shoot someone’” (2).
This was not a lack of impulse control. This was not an accident. This was a planned murder, outlined and executed by a teenager. Juveniles are capable of thinking of and committing such crimes – they should be capable of dealing with the consequences. Those against giving teenagers these sentences use the fact that their brains are not fully developed. This can indeed lead to erratic behavior and impulse decisions, but it does not mean the child can no longer decipher the difference between right and wrong.
In his article, “Startling Finds on Teenage Brains,” Paul Thompson writes, “While research on brain-tissue loss can help us to understand teens better, it cannot be used to excuse their violent or homicidal behavior” (11). There will always be teenagers who seek out crime. This does not rely on the level of brain development, because “If brain development were the reason, then teens would kill at roughly the same rates all over the world. They do not” (Jenkins, 6). Crime is a choice, and those who make this choice should face efficient punishment regardless of their age.
Despite the fact that teenage minds may not be fully developed at the time of the crime, this does not mean they should not be held accountable for their actions. There is also still a possibility of teenagers receiving a sentence modification. In the case of Greg Ousley, the prison sentence gave him time to think about why he killed his parents. He created goals for himself and worked hard enough that his prosecutor “agreed to allow the modification process to move forward, provided that none of the victims’ next of kin… objected” (Anderson).
This allows them the possibility to get out early, but only if they prove they are deserving. Because of this, those who work hard and prove they have reformed can be released into the world, while those who are still likely to commit crimes stay in a place where they are unable. The teenagers who wanted a life of crime receive the punishment they deserve, though there is still the possibility of reformation. Sometimes, juveniles make mistakes. However, there are some who deliberately plan out and commit crimes because they enjoy it.
Adult punishment should be an option for teenagers who act this way. Juvenile punishment is not adequate to reform these characters; they would be released into the world with the chance of inflicting crime again. In the words of James Q. Wilson, “Some persons will shun crime even if we do nothing to deter them, while others will seek it out even if we do everything to reform them. Wicked people exist. Nothing avails except to set them apart from innocent people” (Jenkins, 1). Keeping the possibility of adult punishment open is about the only thing we can do.