Juvenile Offenders In Adult Prison Criminology Essay

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Quantel Lotts was playing around with his step brother chasing each other around with blow guns and darts, until one of them grabbed a knife. By the time Michael Borton, Quantell's brother who was 17 at the time, got the hospital he passed away because of the two stab wounds (Chen, 2009). Quantel Lotts became one the youngest inmates given a life sentence without parole in Missouri. He was sentenced in Missouri's St. Francis County Circuit in 2002 to life in prison without parole, for first degree murder in his step brother's death (Chen, 2009). According to the Equal Justice Initiative, Quantel is one of at least 73 inmates who were sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison for crimes committed when they were 13 or 14 (Chen, 2009). The 73 inmates is just a fraction of the 2,000 juvenile offenders serving life sentences for crimes they committed when they were under the age of 18 (Chen, 2009). Quantel Lotts grew up in a crack house with his mother who used and sold drugs and was sexually abused as a child. When child welfare officials took Quantel away from his mother when he was eight, they noticed the smell of urine and badly decayed molars as well as scars on his arms, legs and forehead (Chan, 2009). He was taken away from his mother and ended living in three different foster homes before living with his father to St. Francois County. His father moved in with a white woman with his three children, her children and developed a relationship. Quantel began to have a lot of resentment and anger because of all he had been through in his childhood and his mother's neglect. He was taught by his parents to use violence such a fighting to solve his problems. If the kids were behaving badly, his parents would make them box. Since he was taught to use violence to solve his problems he chose to have a fight with his brother Michael over a toy that unfortunately ended in his death .His mom admitted to leaving her children with her husband for several days to get high on crack cocaine at a crack house. The state of Missouri dismissed Quantel Lotts' case in St. Francois County Circuit Court where the Equal Justice Initiative will challenge the decision in the Missouri Court of Appeals (Chen, 2009). In 2007 there was a separate petition filled which is pending in the federal court in the Eastern District of Missouri (Chen, 2009). Quantel was sentenced to die in prison despite his step mother's wishes or any consideration of his age, psychological state, or family background. Quantel is still in prison and hopes to come out go to college and become a lawyer.

Studies have shown that in the 1970's and 1980's minors were rarely given life sentences let alone life without parole. According to the Department of Justice by the 1990s there was an increase in juvenile homicides that lead to a movement to try kids in adult courts (Chen, 2009). There are 2,225 inmates serving life without parole for crimes committed as minors, 42 States that allow life without parole for minors, 14 States that have no minimum age for life sentences, 73 documented cases of minors serving life without parole for crimes committed as 13/ 14-year-olds, 44 States that passed laws between 1992 and 1997 making it easier try minors as adult (Chen, 2009). The rate at which death in prison sentences are imposed on juveniles is three times higher today than what it was 15 years ago. As the states punish these young offenders severely the amount of juveniles convicted of serious crimes sentenced to life imprisonment without parole is increasing. As the states punish these young offenders more severely, the amount of juveniles convicted of serious crimes who are sentenced to life imprisonment without parole is also increasing. The National Conference of State Legislatures stated that Colorado, Alaska, New Mexico and Oregon are some of the states that prohibit sentencing minors to life without parole. The advocacy group's attorney has appealed cases involving 13 and 14 years old over the past couple years (Chen, 2009). Attorneys argued that these sentences are cruel and unusual punishment given to the tender years of offenders (Chen, 2009). There are people who are agree with the strict sentencing laws saying that public safety should be top priority and that judges give certain criminals life sentences because the crimes are so heinous, regardless of the age and deserve the punishment. Salerno, of Crime Victims United of California, said that some juveniles can be rehabilitated but that some committed crimes so severe, resources shouldn't be wasted on them(Chen, 2009). A lot of the young offenders serving life sentences without parole were exposed to violence, poverty, drugs during their childhoods, Quantel being one of them. Melissa Sickmund chief of systems research at the National Center for Juvenile Justice in Pittsburgh said" Criminal court doesn't care they are kids, Once they are there, it is just another case" (Chen, 2009).


The first Juvenile court came into being in April 1899, when the Illinois General Assembly passed an Act for the Treatment and Control of Dependent, Neglected and Delinquent Children. The juvenile court movement was composed of moral crusaders and humanitarians who believed that juvenile offenders weren't criminals and didn't deserve punishment. The reformers pictured a court in which penalties would be meted only if they promised to rehabilitate these juveniles (Lotz, 2005). This new court would focus on the child as a person not on the offense he/she committed; it would also allow for the child to receive some kind of treatment in hopes of changing his/her delinquent tendencies. They wished to keep children out of adult courts, jails and prisons and believed that children are still growing up and forming their personalities and giving them harsh justice would be inappropriate ( Lotz, 2005). Putting them through the trauma of criminal trials and criminal institutions could foster them into becoming criminals as a career. Emphasis on the youth's innocence and immaturity reflected new thinking about adolescents, progressive liberalism and the nurturing side of the juvenile court advocates. Being that they are innocent, children needed to be protected from the temptations they are surrounded by in their communities. Those youths that are uncontrollable and considered delinquent by the court would be placed on probation and be assigned a social worker or a psychologist, someone they could talk so that they could return back home and not an institution (Lotz, 2005).

The juvenile's court philosophy believed that children need help in order to be healthy, striving members of modern, urban, industrial society. They imagined that the court staff would provide those children headed toward future delinquency with help. They would be taken to a court where a probation officer or psychologist would make a detailed analysis to determine what caused the child to look towards delinquency (Lotz, 2005). All parties in the court would be united, aiming towards the same goal, that is, they would act in what they thought was in the child's best interest" (Lotz, 2005) Therefore youths should have a special court, one that specializes in handling juvenile cases. This juvenile court philosophy came to an end in the 1960's when the conservatives "accused the court of being soft on youthful criminals, saying that serious crimes ought to bring severe punishments, that age was not a mitigating factor, that juvenile judges were out of touch and that they did not grasp the fact that the crimes committed by today's youth are monstrous and need to be dealt with "(Lotz, 2005). Conservatives refer to those juveniles who kill for a thrill, who have been sent to juvenile facilities numerous times and have been reported to harm the staff, who feel no remorse when they commit crimes. A lot of states started to make it easier to transfer juveniles to adult courts. Using the judicial waiver they lowered the age at which juveniles could be waived to criminal court and they expanded the number of crimes which such transfer was allowed (Lotz, 2005) .The states offered guidelines to the judge as to which factors ought to be considered in making the decision such as the age, the seriousness of the offense, and the juvenile's history. Older juveniles who commit more offenses are the ones with a greater likelihood of being waived. Presumptive waivers allow for the juvenile to prove that he or she is a good candidate for rehabilitation in the juvenile system instead of being sent to a prison. The judicial waiver allowed for a numerous of juveniles to be transferred and "the U.S Department of Justice estimates that in the 1990's there were about 5,500 juveniles being held in adult prisons. Now there are over 9,000 youths being incarcerated on the nation's adult jails. "The Department of justice also reported that 39% of the juveniles in adult prisons were sentence for a nonviolent offense, about 40% of the juveniles were charged for drugs or nonviolent property offense (Smith, 2002).

In 1980 Congress passed the Act of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in 1974. This act required that local jails prevent juveniles from seeing or hearing adult offenders. Juvenile Justice Experts believe that locking away juveniles in adult prisons was a response out of panic and fear. During the 1990's juvenile crime blossomed and politicians created campaigns that were focusing in the family conditions in the U.S where the children were said to be growing up "fatherless, jobless and godless dependent on welfare moms". These politicians fed off the public's reactions and realized that the people wanted something to be done about the increase of crime among the youth. "Although the number of juveniles arrested remained relatively stable over the 1990's there has been unending public discourse about the increasing danger posed by juvenile crime" (Smith, 2002). Elected officials and law enforcement agencies argued that there is a "tidal wave of juvenile crime and it is threatening to overwhelm communities "unless there are tough new laws and penalties to deter juvenile offenders. Officials saw adult prisons to be the real deterrent to juvenile criminals; for them it was the most serious response to punishing crime. The conservatives, politicians and law enforcement officials shared similar views on what should be done with the delinquent juveniles. The politicians promised a tough new policy to keep away violent juvenile criminals and would say "No more would brutal teenagers be coddled by juvenile courts, thereby encouraging additional misbehavior" (Smith, 2002)

Between 1987 and 1993 juvenile arrests for murder increased 110% (Oliver, 2006).The get tough laws was a way to get younger juvenile offenders to be tried in criminal court and be transferred. The politicians created these new laws because they viewed the juvenile court judges as lenient on crime. Their assumption was that getting tough on the juvenile offenders would solve the problem , as a result of these changes in laws, the number of admissions of juvenile offenders to adult prisons increased from 3,400 in 1985 to approximately 7,400 in 1997 (Oliver, 2006). Recent estimates indicated that there were approximately 9,100 youth housed in adult jails and 5,400 housed in adult prisons (Oliver, 2006). They thought these laws would send the juveniles a message that would eventually deter them from engaging in violent behavior and that their kind of be behavior would not be tolerated. In New York, the Juvenile Offender Law of 1978 was passed in response to concerns about violent juvenile crime. It stated that all juveniles who were between the ages of 13 and 15 and were charged with murder and all juveniles who were either 14 or 15 and were charged with certain degrees of assault, arson, burglary, kidnapping and rape would automatically be tried as adults. As a result those juveniles in New York that where of ages 13-15 had an increase in homicide and assault increased, these findings show that these laws in New York did not deter juvenile crime. A second assumption made by legislators in passing laws making it easier to try juveniles as adults has been that tougher laws would enhance community protection because juveniles tried as adults would be less likely to re offend than those tried as juveniles.

Juveniles in Adult Prison

Transferring juveniles into adult prisons brings up a dilemma. People don't expect children to be criminals we expect them to be innocent kids who are still trying to figure out the world that's around them, they also don't expect crimes to be committed by them. When this happens it creates a dilemma in which the crime is redefined and made less serious because it was committed by a child or the child is redefined as an older person who knew what he/she was doing at the time of the crime (Steinberg, 2001). Rather than choosing offenses committed by youth as delinquent; society prefers to define them as less serious and transfer them to adult court and the criminal justice system. It is reasonable to say that there are a number of young offenders, who should be transferred to adult prison because they pose a threat to society, or the severity of their crime deserves a harsh punishment and their history of crimes show that they most likely would re offend and rehabilitation would not work. Instead of this being the most reasonable solution there are thousands of young offenders who are being prosecuted in the adult system, a large portion for non violent crimes which is 39% of juveniles. (Steinberg, 2001) Laurence Steinberg is a developmental psychologist who states how age matters in a juvenile and how sending those to prison can alter their development because of the environment and people they are being surrounded by. He argues that from the age of 12 to 17 "there are rapid and dramatic changed in individual's physical, intellectual, emotional and social capabilities. If there is a period in the life span during which one might choose to draw a line between incompetent and competent individuals, this is it. Adolescence is a period where experiences in the family, peer group, school still has a chance to influence the course of their development. Sending them to adult prisons may not be the best environment for a child to grow up in, surrounded by older adults who committed worst crimes. "Adolescence is a formative period during which a number of developmental trajectories become firmly established and increasingly difficult to alter" (Steingberg, 2001). A fair punishment to an adult is not the same when applying it to a child who did not understand the consequences of his/ her actions. They way in which we interpret and apply laws should vary when the case involves an offender whose understanding of the law is limited by immaturity or whose judgment is impaired by emotional immaturity (Steinberg, 2001) .This does not mean that juveniles should be let off the hook and not be punished but that they should be punished and held responsible within a design for children for mature adults. As the Juvenile system developed it became clear that housing young offenders and adult prisoners together was self destructive and self defeating. Child advocates, law enforcement officials and Congress to consider the destructive effects of placing youth in adult jails and prisons criminologists have urged, research shows that placing youth in adult institutions accentuates criminal behavior after release. Dilulio wrote in the New York Times that "most kids who get into serious trouble with the law need adult guidance and they won't find suitable role models in prison. Jailing youth with adult felons under Spartan conditions will merely produce more street gladiators (Schiraldi, 1997) A lot of the risks they face such as rape, suicide and assault are rarely looked upon as an issue because there is not a lot of statistics. In a study done on juvenile suicide in adult institutions and youth facilities in 1980 researcher Flahery surveyed the number of suicides in a thousand jails and juvenile detention centers. The study found that the suicide rate of juveniles in adult jails is 7.7 times higher than that of juvenile detention centers. They also found that the juvenile institution suicide rate was lower than that of the general population. The British Prison Reform did a report in prison suicides and found that "while people ages 15 to 21 made up 13% of the prison population, they comprised 22% of all suicide deaths" (Schiraldi, 1997)