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The Juvenile System has been around for a long time. The primary reason behind separating Juvenile from adult criminals is quite simple; the judicial system believes that the children are less culpable for their irresponsive behavior and they could easily be reformed as compared to adult offenders. The crucial role of the judicial system is to critically investigate, diagnose, and recommend treatments for the Juveniles rather than accrediting them. However, because of the increasing number of juvenile arrest for crimes committed by persons considered as a child, the attention that the given to a crime involving juveniles, the decreasing trust to the juvenile system itself and the uproar of the society for a safer place to live in, the juvenile justice system began to change. A transition from the classic objective of reform brought by juvenile justice system to a more tough policy that focus more on public safety and on idea of punishment to juvenile offenders came to effect.
The trend is to be more amenable to the "get-tough" principle, allowing a juvenile to be prosecuted and tried as an adult in criminal court. The most basic reason for allowing this shift is for public safety and deterrent of crimes involving juveniles. The arguments provide that there is a need to incapacitate these juveniles for some period of time in order for them to realize the seriousness of the offense that they committed and the adult criminal court system is the closest way of achieving this goal. The advocates of the transfer of the juveniles to adult court believe that since the same crime was committed, the same act was done, thus, there is a need to impose the same harsh punishment. In this way, the advocates of this shift believe that they are maintaining the order and safety of the community by ignoring age gaps or differences. In some states the transfer of juveniles to adult court is done through lowering the minimum age at which juveniles may be waived to adult court. For example, in 1996 the legislature in the state of Missouri lowered the minimum age for transfer from fourteen to twelve (Zierdt, 1999, p.419). States in favor of this kind of shift justify the transfer because chronic juvenile offenders in rehabilitation centers will likely disrupt the reformation of other juvenile offenders as they are considered as a bad influence on them. It is thus, considered that in not transferring the juveniles in adult prisons, these chronic juvenile offenders disrupts the growth and development of other teens undergoing rehabilitation.
On the other hand, the advocates of the juvenile system believe that because children are not fully mentally or physically developed, they are not therefore accountable for their actions in the same way as adults (Ainsworth, 1995, p.932-933). Juvenile criminality for them is "youthful illness" brought about by external forces like environment or impoverished living conditions. Donna Bishop, an advocate of the juvenile justice system, encourages states to give these juveniles "room to reform." She believes that a policy that is designed to discard youth in the middle of the transition to adulthood is uncharacteristic of a fair government (Bishop, 2000, p. 159). Supporters of this kind of reform program for juveniles are not amenable to the transfer to adult court because in their view, such transfer will only be a "reactive response" rather than "preventive response." They maintain that imprisonment will not deter delinquents from re-offending or prevent others from committing crimes, because it does not take into account the troubling backgrounds of many of these juveniles (Smith, 1995, p. 1009-1010). For the supporters of this system, getting harsh on the juvenile offenders does not really heal what is really the so called "wound" in the child's life, rather it just make the child's situation worst as he will be now expose to a place where survival of the fittest will be a rule. Transferring juveniles to adult court will likely expose the juveniles to the same penalties, the same prison to stay in and the same harsh treatment that an adult prisoner may experience in normal prisons or jails. Researches and studies shows that placing and treating a child just like a full-grown up man in an adult court tends to make their situation and condition worst. In 1996, a study in Florida found that the 30% more frequently, juveniles that were transferred to adult prisons tend to be a reoffender or a recidivist than those who stayed in the juvenile system (Bishop and Frazier, 1996). Another research says that placing juveniles in adult jails and prisons greatly increases the likelihood of their committing suicide, being sexually assaulted and other prison crimes (Fagan, 1989). Prison statistics will show that in adult courts suicides is frequently becoming more common. If a full grown up man cannot cope up with the frustration that the adult prison brings then even more with a child in his developing and formative years. Also, if an adult was not able to protect himself from the sexual abuses of his co-prisoners, we cannot also expect a child able to protect himself from molestation and other sexual advances by his older co-prisoner who are more powerful considering the age, mental and physical being.
Should a 16 year old child who murdered his parents and assaulted some of his schoolmates be prosecuted for the crime charged in the adult criminal court and jailed in adult prisons or remained in the juvenile system? This question continues to probe society for many decades primarily because of the increasing number of crimes involving persons who are considered minors. It is a daunting fact that each state has an obligation to protect its people from any public harm, thus, the state has the obligation to punish a person who transgresses another person's rights. However, equally recognized in our legal system is the obligation of a state to act as a parent to its citizens under the principle of parens patriae. The state has the obligation to help its erring juvenile offenders and should undertake a rehabilitation process. The issue of transferring juveniles to adult court presents a controversial and unending debate primarily because of society's deep concern for its safety and the welfare of juveniles. I believe that children and adults can never be treated equal in terms of crimes and imposition of penalties. It is true that the same crime results in the same disruption of public safety, but we should consider the state of mind of juveniles when they committed crimes and compare them to adult offenders who have full control and knowledge of their actions. If public safety is the main consideration for the transfer of juveniles to adult court, then let the scholarly studies and researchers speak. It is an undisputed fact that there is no evidence that transferring a juvenile offender to the adult criminal justice system makes the state a safer place to live. On the contrary, a child in an adult prison will more likely expose this child to abuses of different sorts like sexual abuses, molestation and the like. Furthermore, placing juveniles to adult court might in some instances amount to punishing a victim too. Study shows that children in their own volition do not kill; a lot of contributory factors are taken in to consideration. For example, a child who murders another person may also be a victim of domestic violence, sexual abuses, poverty and influenced by a rather offensive environment. Thus, transferring juveniles will only make the victim to be punished even more. The state, instead o placing them to a harsh environment of adult jails, should create a system that will consistently assess the juveniles taking into consideration the background of each child. Thereafter, it should create a program of action which will specifically seek to ensure that these juveniles will not repeat their violent behavior though not though adult prison but through constant counseling and rehabilitation aimed at releasing their childhood trauma, stress and even criminality. If the state will continue to transfer juveniles to adult courts, it will only open the child to an environment that is too vulgar for him to live in. This will only make his foundation as a child weak, thus, through this we can say that we are creating a future offender, another casualty and another person with loose ways. It is said that a child exposed to a criminal environment and exposed himself to a lot of traumatic events will more likely becomes a violent adolescent and possibly adult criminal life. Lastly, placing the juveniles in adult prisons will surely be a mark in the child's life. It will become an insignia which he will forever carry with him, thus, closing some, if not all opportunities that awaits him. In dealing with juveniles therefore, it is still imperative that the justice system should take into account their mental immaturity and their capacity to change as well as their degree of psychological disturbance. The juvenile system, I believe, is still the best way in reforming the juveniles as they provide them with treatments which they needed. It cannot in any way be done through adult courts as this will only make the situation of the juvenile to an even worst.