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America has focused for years on the violent crimes committed by juvenile offenders. The horrific crimes committed by minors mirrors the crimes committed by adults, making society call for these offenders to be treated like adults in our court systems. Robbery, aggravated assault, and rape committed by juveniles are commonplace and in order to save the court time and money are usually plea bargained down to lesser offenses. But there is one offense that when our justice system tries to makes allowances for, public outrage is heard; murder. Some citizens want these juvenile offenders who commit murder to be subjected to the same punishments as adults, which includes the death penalty or life in prison. Others feel that to administer the death penalty or life imprisonment to a juvenile is tantamount to saying that these kids are inherently bad and nothing in them is salvageable. Should juveniles be subjected to these punishments? The brutality and savagery of some of these murders committed by minors are reprehensible and have led many to believe that such violence should be penalized the same as an adult who would commit such a brutal crime. Americans hear in the news about gang murders, thrill kills, school shootings and hate crimes everyday and feel that these so-called "kids" know right from wrong, so the death penalty or life in prison applied to this group may serve as a deterrent for others. However, is it okay to use capital punishment and lifetime imprisonment for juvenile murderers? When weighing the ramifications of the sentences with other means of rehabilitation, capital punishment and life in prison should not be used on juvenile offenders.
Capital punishment is the execution of a convicted criminal by the state as punishment for the most serious crimes. (New World Encyclopedia) The finality of this punishment should cause people to pause with the recent death row convictions that have been overturned because of DNA evidence. Illinois Governor George Ryan, a death penalty supporter, put a hold on executions in the state after 13 inmates on death row had their convictions overturned. Many of the overturned Illinois convictions were supported by DNA testing and other evidence. (SpeakOut.com) Like Governor Ryan I believe that even the slightest chance that one innocent person could die at this outdated 'eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth' justice warrants the death penalty to be abolished. If society was to end a young person life and later to find out that it was a mistake, it would be an unimaginable horror that could never be rectified. Life imprisonment though doesn't end a young life the sentiment is still the same. Let's lock them up and throw away the key, then never think of them again. The idea of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole is just as detrimental as the death penalty for juveniles, but a more palatable choice for people who have may have trouble sentencing a 12 year old to death.
Rehabilitation is the key to this problem, not washing our hands of these kids and condemning them to death or a life sentence. Plus contrary to the media, crimes involving teens have dropped dramatically and according to juvenile crime statistics, murder only accounted for five percent of violent crimes committed by juveniles.(onlinelawyersource.com) Also when their past is taken in account we find juvenile murderers usually have dealt with physical and/or sexual abuse, seen family violence repeatedly, substance abuse, been bullied, and have been exposed to weapons of some kind and develop traits that they have been subjected to since birth. Though past violence doesn't excuse murder it certainly explains some young offenders gravitating toward it. And like any negative behavior that is learned I believe it can be also unlearned. The justice system for juveniles should revolve around the idea that we're dealing with people who can be reformed, kids who are still growing mentally, but unfortunately a life sentence or the death penalty has made this idea irrelevant. Experts say the most effective rehabilitation comes in a juvenile detention center where impressionable children are counseled in a positive environment with one-on-one attention from adult role models. (tennessean.com)
The Supreme Court has ruled on both of these factors and has not been unable to bring an end to this heated debate. On the issue of capital punishment the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to sentence anyone to death for a crime he or she committed while younger than 18. It concluded that the death penalty for minors is cruel and unusual punishment; also the court cited a "national consensus" against the practice, along with medical and social-science evidence that teenagers are too immature to be held accountable for their crimes to the same extent as adults. (Charles Lane, Washington Post) Unfortunately a juvenile can be still sentenced to life with no possibility of parole if they commit murder, but not for lesser offenses. The court recently ruled that denying juveniles who have not committed homicide a chance to never rejoin society is counter to national and "global" consensus and violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. (Robert Barnes, Washington Post)
Even though these issues have been voted on by our highest court, the issue of juvenile punishment is still a hot button topic. With more and more news stories that tell of recent school massacres committed by teens, a child pulling an arm robbery or a young man who killed his little brother for no reason; our feelings of retribution for these senseless crimes are raised all over again. When we wonder if our courts were too hasty in their decisions we only need to remember that neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment had little impact on juvenile crime when they were still instated. This alone should make the case that these two punishments are outdated deterrents for crime.