In a growing national trend, children who are accused of committing a crime are being charged as adults. The reasoning is that because the nature of the crime is adult, so to should be the punishment.
But an important question remains. By putting juveniles in adult prisons, are we putting a band aid on a bigger social problem?
Currently, only 13 states publicly disclose the number of cases transferred from juvenile court to an adult court. Even more interesting is that the age of a juvenile varies from state to state. In 13 states, you will be automatically charged as an adult if you are 16 or 17 years old.
We spoke with Cristine Beckwith, owner of Beckwith Juvenile Law, to get her perspective. She discussed how the decision to try a juvenile as an adult can be political at times. Factors such as media attention can put a lot of pressure on the prosecutor’s office to try and transfer a juvenile case to adult court.
However, in Washington Stare, the ultimate decision to try a juvenile as an adult is made by a superior court judge. Although they are elected officials and are therefore subject to public scrutiny, they have a duty to be fair and impartial.
Ms. Beckwith stated that an important part of her job is to demonstrate the success rate of treatment and rehabilitation as opposed to incarceration. She continues, “Although my job is to represent the best interests of my clients and not society, I firmly believe that the best interests of society are served when juveniles have access to the special programs of the juvenile justice system. Denying them access and punishing them as adults hurts the child and society.”
An Indiana report seems to support her conclusions. The report found that only 13.6% of juvenile sex offenders who had been released in 2008 had returned back to the Indiana Department of Correction. In comparison, amongst almost 300,000 prisoners released in 15 states in 1994, 67.5% were rearrested within 3 years.
* This has been a guest post *