In its development towards civilized relations, society has enacted a system of laws, the disobedience to which entails corresponding penalties. Jurisprudence has recently paid specific attention to the age of criminals: there has been a tendency to introduce a lighter sentence in cases involving juvenile delinquents. However, witnessing the increasing crime rates among juveniles, courts are currently assuming an attitude of equality and treat teenage lawbreakers according to the standards applied to adults. This situation has evoked a heated debate, with multiple arguments voiced against adult laws applied to teenagers; in particular, the New York Times “Little Adult Criminals” and L. Steinberg’s “Should Juvenile Offenders Be Tried as Adults?” focus on the impropriety of the tough policy. Taking into account the teenagers’ immaturity, their inability to perform adequate judgment, and their natural capacity for change, it appears reasonable to claim that the application of the adult procedure to juvenile cases is an erroneous and inefficient approach.
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Teenagers’ emotional immaturity
For one thing, the results of in-depth research conducted by developmental psychologists point at teenagers’ immaturity in terms of emotional control, judgment and resistance to negative influence from without. The age range between 12 and 17 years is classified by specialists as the “period […] during which one may choose to draw a line between incompetent and competent individuals” (Steinberg 597). Dramatic changes in one’s perception and outlook, first attempts to establish one’s social significance, unprecedented deepening of emotional experiences, — all those factors make teenagers especially unbalanced and susceptible to the opinion of dubious authorities. During this transitional phase from child to adult, teenagers’ decisions are characterized by spontaneity and a high level of peer influence.
Lack of adequate judgment in teenagers
For another thing, due to the emotional instability typical of teenagers, their judgment of the world often lacks adequacy and validity. Basing their behavior on vague and often erroneous notions of reality, teenagers appear to misjudge rather complex situations they have to deal with and consequently act incorrectly. Medical research has shown that juveniles cannot “fully understand the consequences of their actions” (“Little Adult Criminals” 594). Therefore, they do not comprehend the level of their responsibility before the law, and imposing an adult-applicable penalty on them does not match teenagers’ capacity for understanding the situation.
Teenagers’ capacity for change
Last but not least, considering the ultimate aim of the judicial system to be the prevention of possible future crimes, teenagers’ capacity for change can be taken advantage of within the juvenile system only. Imposing long-term imprisonment on a juvenile delinquent means neglecting the opportunity for his/her rehabilitation and dooming him/her to a life filled with depression, hatred and consequent violence. Instead, it is rather advisable to make use of the natural flexibility of teenagers’ character and of their susceptibility to persuasion in order to improve their outlook and harmonize them with society. The practice has shown that teenagers who have undergone rehabilitation instead of mere imprisonment “are less likely to be arrested again” (“Little Adult Criminals” 594–595). Therefore, for educational ends, punishment of juveniles should be substituted with rehabilitation, as it gives positive perspectives on their improvement.
For the purposes of improving the criminal situation, juveniles should be tried within the juvenile system, since it takes into account immaturity as the key characteristic of teenagers. Efficient rehabilitation is possible only via social acceptance and cooperation that encourages teenagers to abandon the criminal path and become worthy members of society. Failure to provide adequate rehabilitation to juveniles may result in growing crime rates and an increase in social distrust and hostility.
“Little Adult Criminals.” New York Times Editorial. 2001. Patterns for a Purpose: A Rhetorical Reader. 5th ed. Ed. Barbara Fine Clouse. USA: McGraw–Hill, 2008. 593–595. Print.
Steinberg, Lawrence. “Should Juvenile Offenders Be Tried as Adults?” Patterns for a Purpose: A Rhetorical Reader. 5th ed. Ed. Barbara Fine Clouse. USA: McGraw–Hill, 2008. 596–599. Print.
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