Incarcerated Adolescents Juveniles Confined as Adults for Homicide

Lionel Alexander Tate, who was charged with first degree murder, is America’s youngest citizen to be sentenced to life in prison without a chance of parole. In 1998 when he was 12, Tate battered six-year old Tiffany Eunick to death when attempting to duplicate professional wrestling moves that he saw on television. This surprising act is one of many instances that strikes a question: at what age should someone be incarcerated as an adult? There is much controversy over whether or not a juvenile who committed homicide should be incarcerated as an adult, based on the brain and psychological developments of adolescents that may affect their ability to conscientiously make decisions. The current debate consists of two sides: those who argue that juvenile offenders who committed homicide should be incarcerated as adults, and those who are opposed.

At this time, the majority of the states, including many people, seem to agree that older juveniles, such as those at the age of 17, should no longer be treated as a juvenile as they are almost a legal adult. However, many of these beliefs change when a juvenile younger than 17 commits a severe crime, such as homicide. When growing up, children are taught the difference between right and wrong, and the consequences of their actions. According to the article “Research Shows Toddlers Understand Right from Wrong at Just 19 Months” published on February 23, 2012 on the Association for Psychological Science website, even children younger than the age of two are able to comprehend the difference between right and wrong. If even a toddler can understand the difference between right and wrong, then a juvenile capable of committing a homicide can undoubtedly understand it as well, and is therefore a threat to the public and should be treated as one. In 2015, about 680 murders in the United States involved known juvenile offenders, which is about 7% of all known murder offenders. These numbers have continued to increase since 2011 for unknown reasons, yet laws protecting juvenile offenders from being incarcerated as adults continue to be regulated. As juvenile murderers become more prevalent, they should be taken more seriously and treated as threats that need to be managed. In addition to treating juvenile murderers as criminals rather than children, juvenile psychopaths should be regarded as a much more dangerous threat, as they feel little to no remorse for taking a human life, and may even gain pleasure from doing so. According to the “Psychopathy” article published on July 1, 2012 on the LEB website, “Psychopaths tend to have longer, more varied, and more serious criminal histories and, overall, are more consistently violent than non-psychopaths” (Babiak, et al.). Along with their lack of emotion, psychopaths are also incurable, as their condition is a result of abnormalities in the brain. Due to this, psychopaths that have committed homicide should be incarcerated as adults, regardless of their age, on account of their ability to become an even greater threat to the public. Those that deliberately commit homicide, should be held responsible for their actions and receive the proper punishments for it.

 Nevertheless, there are still many reasons to support why juvenile offenders should not be incarcerated as adults. Although the majority of the states will incarcerate any adolescent as an adult if they commit homicide, there is no actual evidence that shows incarcerating juvenile offenders as adults improves anything. As a matter of fact, it is very ineffective and harmful. Despite the fact that adult incarceration of juvenile offenders is not meant to be a pleasant punishment, especially for those who committed homicide, time in prison should not be as arduous as it currently is, especially for an adolescent. According to the article “Teenagers in Adult Prison More Likely to be Sexually Abused by Staff, DOJ Finds” published on May 16, 2013 on the Think Progress website, juveniles imprisoned as adults undergo more abuse and sexual assault than adult inmates do. In addition to the very cruel treatment of adolescents in adult prison, many juveniles that were incarcerated as adults continue to commit crimes after being released. According to the article “Study: Throwing Kids in Jail Makes Crime Worse, Ruins Lives” published on June 17, 2013 on the Think Progress website, “Young offenders who were incarcerated were a staggering 67 percent more likely to be in jail (again) by the age of 25 than similar young offenders who didn’t go to prison” (Beauchamp). Evidently, incarcerating juvenile offenders, which is meant to prevent and cease crime, ironically does the opposite.

Furthermore, juvenile offenders who are released after being incarcerated as adults but have not continued to commit crimes, do not have an easy life either. Many of them have difficulty adjusting to adulthood and society as plenty have not completed their education and have to get a job, which is difficult due to their criminal record, and for many, lack of education; learn to work, live by themselves, and many more problems that others are not inconvenienced by. According to “The Challenges of Prisoner Reentry: Facts and Figures” published in May 2008 by The Urban Institute, many ex-prisoners face difficulty when looking for employment, and those who are employed usually obtain a low skill job and receive very low wages. It is evident that incarcerating juvenile offenders as adults should not be the first choice of punishment for an adolescent.

Unlike those who agree that juvenile offenders should be incarcerated as adults, the writer is opposed. Based on thorough research, the writer believes that juvenile offenders, should not be incarcerated as adults, but for good reason. Although juveniles who have committed homicide should be punished for their actions, they should be rehabilitated instead of incarcerated as adults. However, due to the fact that they are incurable, the writer believes juvenile psychopaths that have committed homicide should be confined in a mental institution, whereas juvenile murderers that are mentally stable should be given an opportunity to rehabilitate. According to the article “Do Rehabilitation Programs for Young Offenders Actually Work?” published on April 9, 2013 on the Guardian for Children and Young People website, well enforced programs can decrease recidivism rates by up to 40 percent, and even offenders that committed violent and sexual crimes have a chance of success. In addition to its great potential, rehabilitation costs significantly less for taxpayers. According to the article “Incarcerating Youth Could Cost Taxpayers More Than $8 Billion a Year” published on January 7, 2015 on the EJI website, 46 states showed the average cost for the highest priced confinement of a juvenile was $408 per day, while the price for individualized, community based programs only cost $75 a day. Contrary to popular belief, murderers can be rehabilitated. Jesse Reed was charged with first-degree murder in 1985 and sentenced to 27 years to life in prison. A teenager at the time, Reed shot and killed Joseph Bates when robbing him at gunpoint. Decades later, Reed deeply regrets his actions and is changing himself for the better. Criminals like Reed are evidence that even murderers are capable of rehabilitation and improving. Anyone willing to improve, even those that have committed even the worst crimes, are capable of rehabilitation and should be given the opportunity to do so.

Although both opposing views have great reasons to support their arguments, no one has been able to come to a final agreement due to many factors. Determinants such as the number of juveniles committing homicide, mentally unstable murderers, psychological and brain developments of adolescents, and effectiveness and cost of adult incarceration and juvenile rehabilitation, impacts the opinion of the writer and those who oppose or support the adult incarceration of juvenile offenders. As these precedents change or remain the same, the opinions of many will differentiate, but eventually, the solution to whether or not juvenile offenders should be incarcerated as adults will be apparent.

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