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Imagine you are twelve years old and you are having an argument with your friend, and the argument turns to a violent fight and your friend is dead. Now imagine being in front of a judge and hearing that you are going to spend the rest of your life in an adult prison. This is a grim reality for many juveniles right now in America. They are being tried as adults and being sent to adult prisons. Crimes being committed by youth is a growing problem, and society is more accepting of young teens or even younger children being sent into the adult prisons systems where they face violent attacks, lose what education they have, and often time join gangs to survive. Statics show that many of the juveniles that do survive and get out are more likely to come out and commit more violent crimes.
Many juveniles that are in adults prisons right now are in there not only for violent crimes but also for lesser degrees of crimes. For example in USA today there was an editorial about a twelve year old boy in Florida who was being interviewed in a maximum-security prison yard for stealing a car and leading several state and local police in a high-speed chase which ended when he crashed into an interstate highway roadblock. When asked if he was sorry for what he done they child said it was the "greatest day of his life. "It was like Smokey and the Bandit [a popular chase film]". (Smith) This is just one example of the maturity level of the juveniles in prisons with harden adult criminals. The sad reality of his incarceration is he is not in for committing a violent crime, but for doing something that he had seen in his favorite movie.
In today society young people are being more exposed to violent movies, and video games. So we must ask ourselves is it societies fault that these young people are committing these crimes. The maturity level of juveniles does not allow them to always know what the consequences are for reenacting the violence they see in the movies, or in video games. The video game series Grand Theft Auto is a video game where you steal cars, and kill prostitutes with flame throwers. Some may be naÃ¯ve enough to think that juveniles are not playing these games because you have to be eighteen to buy it, but with the internet today anyone of any age can get these games. The movies and video games do not show these young people the consequences of the actions being played out. It is the responsibility of society as a whole to have sanctions in place so that these violent movies and games are never produce for them to see.
In a congressional testimony given by Tracy McClard on April 21st 2010 she describes the effects on her sixteen year old son Jonathan after being arrested then being sentenced to adult prison for a crime he committed while under the influence of drugs. In her testimony she tells us about the day he shot his ex-girlfriends new boyfriend because the new boyfriend had threaten to kill the ex-girlfriend and her unborn baby (Jonathan's baby). The new boyfriend did not die as a result of being shot. Jonathan was an overall good kid that just had a lapse in judgment. He turned himself in thinking that the police would understand that he was just trying to save two lives; little did he know that he would be thrown in a county jail where his whole and the live of his family would be drastically changed forever. While in the county jail Jonathan was faced with the decision to try and finish his education while facing the repercussions of other imamates or join a gang to survive. Jonathan had dreams of becoming a doctor or a psychiatrist unfortunately these dreams will never become a reality. Although in Missouri has programs in place for juveniles like Jonathan to be placed in alternative living run by the Missouri Department of Youth Services (DYS) and a representative for DYS came to his sentencing hearing to testify that Jonathan was a very good candidate for the program the judge hearing the case denied this and sentenced Jonathan back to jail. Jonathan was being shuffled around from one county jail to the next but one in particular he never wanted to reenter upon hearing that he was being transferred back there he was found hanging in his cell three days after his seventeenth birthday. (McClard) Unfortunately this is what many young people are facing everyday while incarcerated, they are being beaten, raped, and overpowered by men and women twice their size. Many of these young offenders do join gangs to survive so what lessons are they learning while incarcerated other than the lesson of how to survive and their teachers now are not ones with higher education backgrounds but with backgrounds that are "street" learned and hardened.
In studies done over the years it shows that there is a higher recidivism rate in juveniles that are placed in the adult prison system. One study done by experts identifies several possible explanations for the higher recidivism rates of violent juveniles offender tried in criminal court to those tried in juvenile court:
The stigmatization and other negative effects of labeling juveniles as convicted felons.
The sense of resentment and injustice juveniles feel about being tried and punished as adults.
The learning of criminal mores and behaviors while incarcerated with adult offenders.
The decrease focus on rehabilitation and family support in the adult system. (Redding, Bazemore and Umbriet).
Another report done by a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and the UT School of Law finds that every year, nearly eighty children age thirteen and younger are judicially transferred to adult court. Many of these young children are being treated as adults for relatively minor offenses. On a single day in 2008, 7, 703 children under the age eighteen were held in adult local jails and 3, 650 in adult state prisons. (Deitch).
Federal and state law makers need to take a stand for these juveniles. Instead of passing laws that juveniles be tried as adults the law makers need to take into consideration what the repercussions in doing so is having on the juvenile offenders. In 2001 prosecutors in Florida put two fourteen year olds on trial as adults for homicides committed when they where twelve and thirteen. A Fort Lauderdale jury convicted Lionel Tate of first-degree murder in the 1999 death of six year old Tiffany Eunick, and the judge imposed a mandatory sentence of life without parole. Four months later a West Palm Beach jury found Nathaniel Brazill guilty of second-degree murder and the fourteen year old was sentenced to twenty-eight years in prison without parole for killing his English teacher, Barry Grunow. A supreme court in California has ruled that a fifteen year old boy, Charles Andrew Williams should be tried as an adult for the murder of two students in a school shooting. (McCormick). This is just one of many articles on how easily it is to try juveniles as adults. Law makers are not thinking of rehabilitation for these young offenders even though they have committed horrendous crimes, some with intense therapy and continuing their education can be rehabilitated. Instead they are slamming the door and throwing away the key on these young lives.