Sentencing Youths to Adult Correctional Facilities Increases Public Safety
Smith, Lamar, Corrections Today
More than 100 years ago, our country adopted a separate justice system for juveniles charged with violations of criminal law. The purpose of a separate system was to focus on rehabilitating young offenders. The conventional wisdom held that children who behaved unlawfully were in need of help from society to prevent youthful indiscretions from evolving into lifelong criminal conduct.
Times have changed. Today, the federal government and the states continue to operate separate justice systems for juvenile offenders. However, shifts in juvenile crime trends have resulted in new approaches. The juvenile justice system is ill-equipped to deal with increasingly violent acts by juveniles.
Recently in Michigan, a 13-year-old was convicted of second-degree murder for a crime he committed when he was 11. This case is part of a disturbing trend. In 1999, 16 percent of those arrested for violent crimes were under 18. Nine percent of the murder arrests, 17 percent of forcible rape arrests and 25 percent of robbery arrests were attributable to juveniles. Factors such as drug use, juvenile gangs and family breakdown forced many states to re-evaluate approaches to juvenile crime.
For many years, there was a rationale among "experts" that juveniles should receive lenient punishment from the criminal justice system regardless of the crime. As a consequence, juveniles' sentences were often shorter than adults' and they were released by a certain age regardless of rehabilitation. But with a new class of juvenile offenders committing violent crimes with a shocking lack of remorse, many states adopted laws allowing transfer of older juveniles accused of serious crimes to the adult justice system.
Transfer to the adult justice system allows a juvenile to be charged as an adult, tried in adult court and sentenced by the adult system. The decision to make such a transfer is generally based on the age of the person, the seriousness of the offense and any history of delinquency.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 20 percent of juveniles arrested at age 16 had been arrested for the first time before age 12. …