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The years of adolescence can be very pivotal and exciting for people. However, in some parts of the United States, adolescents can be tried as adults in court when they break the law. In 1899, Cook County, Illinois established the first juvenile court. It was based on the notion that young offenders are more in need of rehabilitation than punishment because they are less developed than adults. During the first half of the 20th century, similar courts spread across the country (Gass 2). However, in the 1990’s, which is known as the “tough-on-crime era”, many states started to make it easier to process adolescents in adult courts and prisons (Bruinius 2). In present day, children being tried in adult courts is an issue heavily debated within the realm of criminology. If lawmakers raised the age to be tried in juvenile court, it would prove to be an effective measure that would improve the criminal justice system.Supporters of trying young people as adults argue that 18 year olds can vote and serve in the military, therefore they should be tried as adults. Some question the effectiveness of age raising, but that notion varies depending on different state policies and perception of success. A study of the Illinois justice system found no huge statistical change in recidivism rates since 2010, when the state allowed 17 year olds with misdemeanors in juvenile court (Kauffman 4). Opposers of raise-the-age bills worry that 17 year old offenders in juvenile court pose a threat to public safety. Steve Cornwell, the Republican district attorney in Broome County, New York, believes that raising ages will re-victimize victims, allow defendants to go unpunished, and lead to exploitation of children via drug dealers without the threat of criminal prosecution. Senator John Whitmore, Texas democrat, worries that juvenile justice prisons, some which are “out of control and dangerous”, would become even more dangerous with the presence of 17 year olds (Bruinius 3-4). These claims are plausible, but the arguments that are in favor of raise-the-age bills outweigh the opposition. When debating juveniles being tried as adults, scientific studies should be examined. Large bodies of research alludes that adolescents are still developing mentally into their 20s (Kauffman 4). In fact, the human mind does not hit maturity until the mid-20s. Social psychology and neurobiology findings claim that adolescents are typically more susceptible to risky behavior, more vulnerable to peer pressure, and more likely to be unstable in emotionally charged settings (Gass 2-3). The Roper vs. Simmons case ruled that the execution of minors violates the Eighth Amendment. In Missouri in 1993, Christopher Simmons and his two friends broke into the home of Shirley Crook, robbed her home, tied her up, and threw her off a bridge. Simmons confessed to first degree murder at his trial, and the jury recommended the death penalty. Simmons claimed that the impulsiveness of his then age, as well as his troubled youth, should have been considered when jurors were deciding his fate. The court rejected his motion. In 2002, when the Supreme Court ruled that imposing the death penalty on the mentally ill was unconstitutional in the Atkins v. Virginia case, the Missouri Supreme Court decided to reconsider Simmon’s case. The court ruled 6-3 in favor of Simmons and his sentence was converted to life in prison without parole (Brannen, “Roper” 318-321). Scientific research implies that current juvenile and adult justice systems do not correctly reflect the modern path from adolescence to adulthood. Vincent Schiraldi, senior research scientist and adjunct professor at the Columbia School of Social Work in New York, says that raising the age would bring a more gradual entrance into full adulthood in the legal system the way psychologists, sociologists, and neural biologists believe people mature (Gass 2-3). Lawmakers should consider scientific studies, Schiraldi’s claims, and the actions made in Roper v. Simmons when expanding the juvenile justice system to older children. Changing generations should play a factor when lawmakers consider raising the age for juvenile justice. Adolescence has become elongated in comparison to previous generations (Schiraldi 2). In present day, young people finish college, find jobs, get married, and move out of their parents much later than previous generations (Gass 2). In present day, it is rare to find a recent high school graduate who is married with a mortgage and a full-time job (Kauffman 3). In fact, nine percent of young adults were married in 2010, compared with 45 percent in 1960 (Schiraldi 2). Taking on serious adult roles helps to occupy young people’s time, making them less likely to commit misdemeanors and felonies (Kauffman 3). To conclude, current minimum ages of the adult criminal justice system do not reflect the affected generation, and lawmakers should examine that. A prediction for juveniles being tried as juveniles is a reduction in recidivism rates. Children in adult courts and prisons experience higher rearrest rates in comparison to youths in the juvenile justice system. 78 percent of 18 to 24 year olds released from prison are rearrested and about 50 percent return to prison within three years, which is the highest recidivism of any age group (Schiraldi 2-3). 16 year olds who are tried as juveniles are less likely to be rearrested than those tried as adults (“Crime” 2). According to former Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, who met with an expert panel to discuss developmentally appropriate responses to juveniles in the adult criminal justice system, “Research indicates that… we may have a significant opportunity, even after the teenage years, to exert a positive influence, and reduce future criminality through appropriate interventions” (Schiraldi 3). In 2016, a report by the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School found that raising ages for adult persecution caused incarceration rates for people under 18 to drop by 68 percent and it continues to decline. In addition, the report showed sharp reductions in arrests, court caseloads, and incarceration costs (“Crime” 2). Statistics show that trying young people as adults in court increases recidivism rates. In order to improve society, lawmakers need to include young people in the juvenile justice system. Raising the age for juvenile justice can save the government a good amount of money. Initially, including older teens in the juvenile justice system could mean acquiring additional costs to hire more family court judges, juvenile prosecutors, and public defenders; as well as build more courts and detention facilities. However, “states that have raised the age have not seen their juvenile court systems crushed by the numbers,” says Krista Larson of the Vera Institute, a research organization that urges for change in the criminal justice system. If North Carolina raised the age for juvenile justice to 18, the state would save $52.3 million a year. In 2007, after Connecticut passed its “raise the age” law, the state ended up spending slightly less on juvenile justice than it did before the age was raised. Evidence implies that prosecuting young people as juveniles will save taxpayers money as recidivism rates drop and young people live prosperous lives, earn a living, and contribute to society (Wiltz 3-5). In addition to saving money, governments can save on resources without the presence of 17-year-olds in adult jail. Rob Reardon, the director of corrections for the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Department in Louisiana, claims that “the outcomes for young people in adult jails have been terrible.” On a recent day, the parish jail held one 17-year-old girl and eight 17-year-old boys, awaiting judgment for crimes that range from trespassing to murder. Inmates generally live in pods of 13 cells with double bunks, or 26 per pod. According to federal law (though frequently broken in New Orleans), youths must be kept separate, so one entire pod was occupied by just the eight boys, who were looked after by a guard 24 hours a day. The girl was kept alone in a unit with four cells (Eckholm 3-4). Lawmakers should consider the monetary savings, as well the strains that young people put on government buildings, when raising the age for juvenile justice. When lawmakers debate raising the age for juvenile justice, they should examine how the adult criminal justice system has already affected young people. In New York and North Carolina, 16-year-olds are still funneled through adult criminal courts and housed in jails, which can be extremely dangerous for teens. Young people in adult prisons risk sexual assault more than adult offenders (Wiltz 1-3). There have been high profile cases of young teenagers beaten and abused in New York’s notorious Rikers Island jail complex. Brian Evans, the director of state campaigns at the Campaign for Youth Justice, notes that teenagers in the adult criminal system have a high suicide rate and are more likely to commit crimes again after they are released (Bruinius 4). Vincent Schiraldi adds that “mixing young people with adults gives them role models, but not the role models we want them to have, so separating them is not just good for the system, but it could be helpful to the young people as well” (Gass 3). When teenagers are in adult prisons, they do not have access to rehabilitative services that the juvenile justice system provides (Wiltz 1). In a Palm Beach Post editorial by Talitha Hazelton, who is a former assistant public defender for Palm Beach County, Hazelton claims that when children are in adult court, they are sent to county jail and have no physical contact with their families. Even though it is required by law that juvenile offenders get an education, they usually are given nothing more than worksheets. When kids arrive in adult court, they have the presumption that they do not deserve juvenile justice. Jurors and judges assume that juveniles in adult court are “properly vetted, and deemed the worst of the worst.” Jurors assume that these children have awful, violent histories and judges infer that adult penalties are vital (Hazelton 2). “There’s no good that comes for kids out of adult court… It’s not a deterrent. This is really about what works and what’s been shown to work.” says Elizabeth Clarke, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, an advocacy group that pushes to raise Illinois’s juvenile offender age to 18 (Wiltz 4). Lawmakers need to understand that adult criminal justice systems have failed troubled young people, and they should take necessary steps to raise the age of juvenile justice. Giving juvenile delinquents a hopeful future should be a priority when lawmakers raise the age for juvenile justice. In Graham v. Florida, the Supreme Court found in favor of Terrance Graham and determined that children “who commit non-homicidal crimes should not be sentenced to life in prison without parole.” Between 2003 and 2005, teenager Terrance Graham was a repeat offender who was guilty of two counts of robbery and one count of assault. In 2005, Graham was sentenced to life in prison without parole because he infringed on the terms of his probation. In Graham’s appeal to the Supreme Court, he argued that a life sentence is a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. He supports his argument with the fact that he was a juvenile at the time and his crimes did not involve taking a life. Graham v. Florida was the first time the court omitted an entire class of criminals from a certain punishment besides the death penalty, and was considered a huge win by child welfare advocates (Brannen, “Graham” 323-324). If the Supreme Court could give Terrance Graham the opportunity for a future outside of criminality, then other lawmakers should as well. Moreover, in terms of children’s futures, adult courts have innumerable fallacies that land amongst children. In an editorial from the Palm Beach Post, the writer claims that many children in Palm Beach County are placed in adult court, where failure is almost inevitable. Florida law allows prosecutors to send children with certain charges against them straight into adult court. Prosecutors neither have to consider outside aspects affecting a delinquent’s behavior, nor explain their reasoning behind prosecuting the child as an adult. Children in Florida cannot even ask for a hearing to petition for a return to juvenile court (Hazelton 1-2). By charging and convicting adolescents as adults, a whole class of people forms who cannot get jobs or obtain housing because they are being held responsible for things they did when they were young, offers Nancy Ginsburg, director of adolescent intervention and diversion for the New York-based Legal Aid Society (Wiltz 2-3). In an editorial from the New York Times, the writers claim that it is inhumane for New York to set 16 as the age for adult criminal responsibility. This was set in 1962 when New York lawmakers could not agree on the definition of adulthood. Generations of young offenders were affected, some unfixable, by this agreement (“Crime” 2). Jeree Thomas, policy director at the Campaign for Youth Justice in Washington, says “this issue, it impacts all of us… When you think about the costs of incarceration, when you think about the physical and emotional costs on kids and the results on society once they’re released–if we’re able to better serve the needs of those young people to help them become law-abiding citizens, that will positively impact all our lives” (Bruinius 3). Luckily, Illinois took productive measures to give juvenile offenders futures. Cook County will open a Restorative Justice Community Court to give 18 to 26 year olds charged with non-violent misdemeanors and felonies an opportunity to work in the community and avoid a criminal record. Chief Judge Timothy Evans of the Circuit Court of Cook County explains that “the community gets back a productive citizen… The victim is less likely to be victimized again by this so-called perpetrator, and the perpetrator instead of having to live a life of suffering from being a perpetual perpetrator will be welcomed back into the community” (Rhee 2-4). To conclude, the actions of the Supreme Court, the fallacies of adult courts among children, and potential community benefits should motivate lawmakers to raise the age for juvenile justice. An effective measure that would improve the criminal justice system is raising the age to be tried in adult courts. Adolescents caught up in adult courts and prisons is a heavily debated topic that was first brought to light in the “tough-on-crime era” of the 1990’s, when states started to make it easier to process young people in adult courts and prisons. During the first half of the 20th century, juvenile courts spread across the country, which was based on the idea that young offenders are more in need of rehabilitation than punishment. In the present, unfortunately, adolescents in certain states can be tried as adults in court when they break the law. This fact clashes with the idea that the years of adolescence are very pivotal and exciting.

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