Juvenile Crime, Childhood and Justice

Introduction

The adultification of juveniles is something that has taken centre stage in the criminal justice system. Many countries and states have implemented new laws aimed at sentencing more children in adult courts (Norozi & Moen 2016). The essay will present four unique stages. The first stage gives an analysis of the socially constructed concept of childhood. The essay will go further to analyse the issue of identification of young offenders. The next part of the paper will examine how the identification of juvenile offenders has impacted the punishment of young people. The final stage of the essay will offer evidence-based resolutions that can be used to transform the situation. The conclusion of the paper will restate and summarise the major points discussed in the essay. The main thesis or argument presented in the essay is that the current juvenile justice system should be changed “to include appropriate supervision plans that do not jeopardise public safety” (Bolin 2014, p. 161).

Identification of Juvenile Offenders and the Punishment of Young People

The issue of juvenile justice cannot be clearly understood without having a proper definition of childhood. The term “childhood” is a concept that derives its meaning from society. This kind of social construction explains why different societies will have their unique definitions of childhood. The meaning has changed significantly within the past centuries. Norozi and Moen (2016) indicate that a person cannot experience childhood. This means that childhood is an unnatural concept that is defined by man. Biological immaturity is experienced differently in human beings. Before the 20th century, people were observed to take huge responsibilities at an early age. When it comes to the issue of sexual behaviour, the concept of childhood is treated differently.

Child-centeredness is, therefore, a modern idea that emerged towards the end of the 19th century. This analysis shows conclusively that each society has a clear understanding of what childhood entails. The outstanding fact is that every society or community appears to have a common idea of childhood. This is the case because many global communities view individuals below the age of 18 as children (Norozi & Moen 2016). Many laws and policies have therefore been designed in such a way that they treat individuals below the age of 18 differently (Pitts 2015). Unfortunately, young people have been observed to commit heinous crimes. The situation has led to numerous issues revolving around the treatment of adults and children in the criminal justice system. It should, therefore, be agreed that childhood is a socially constructed concept.

The social definition of childhood is something that has influenced the criminal justice system. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, many nations acknowledged the fact that juveniles required special treatment and attention. Norozi and Moen (2016) argue that they were different from adults in terms of decision-making, sexual behaviour, and interpretation of the law. From 1945, many states in the United began to develop new justice systems aimed at addressing the legal needs of juveniles. However, the recent past has been characterised by the continued adultification of juveniles. Consequently, the criminal justice system has been changing significantly to address the problem of juvenile delinquency.

Pitts (2015) believes strongly that many societies are no longer upholding the traditional definition of childhood, especially in their criminal justice systems. With many juveniles committing heinous crimes in different societies, policymakers have been implementing new laws to ensure such offenders are sentenced in adult courts. This development is what has led to the adultification of young offenders. Juvenile officers in such legal systems have been “focusing on the welfare and treatment of young criminals” (Bolin 2014, p. 94). With many young people lacking adequate representation, the adultification process has transformed the nature of punishment available to them.

Studies have revealed that over 100,000 young people are prosecuted in the United Kingdom every single year (Pitts 2015). The most astounding fact is that majority of such offenders entering different adults courts are not imprisoned for serious crimes. On the contrary, such offenders are usually prosecuted for minor offences. A small percentage of such culprits are usually arrested for serious criminal offences such as murder or robbery. Consequently, many young offenders have continued to receive harsh punishments that are designed for adults.

After convictions, the offenders are usually charged as adults and eventually incarcerated (Goldson 2013). Some states have strict laws that ensure the convicted youths serve their terms in jails designed for adults. Since the year 1990, the number of juveniles being sentenced as adults has increased by over 208 per cent (Pitts 2015). Experts believe strongly that more youths will find themselves in adult courts and jails in the future. These facts show conclusively that more youths incarcerated in adult jails are usually exposed to numerous risks such as sexual abuse and assault.

Juvenile court judges possess the best skills to handle the legal needs of juvenile offenders. Unfortunately, the judgments are usually made by judges in adult courts. This practice explains why more juveniles have not been able to receive appropriate sentencing or punishment for their offences. This has been the case despite the fact that juvenile court judges can offer appropriate judgments after investigating the issues surrounding the presented case. The other important issue to consider is that many young offenders do not have access to competent juvenile lawyers to offer the required legal counsel (Crofts 2016). This gap explains why many youth offenders end up being sentenced and prosecuted as adults in different communities across the world.

The issue of race has faced the global criminal justice system for decades. Many adults of colour have been affected disproportionately by the criminal justice policies in different parts of the world. In America, for example, statistics have indicated that African Americans and Latinos had higher chances of being imprisoned after committing minor offences (Crofts 2016). The same problem has continued to affect more juveniles who find themselves in the criminal justice system. This problem has mainly been caused by the adultification of young people. A study conducted by Goldson (2013) indicated that most of the young offenders in the nation’s adult system are immigrants or from minority racial groups.

It is therefore agreeable that young offenders or suspects who are tried as mature people face harsh punishments usually designed for adults (Crofts 2016). Such juveniles are usually placed in different adult jails or prisons. The sentencing of youth offenders follows similar guidelines designed for adults. That being the case, such youths may get life sentences without any possibility of parole. Pitts (2015) indicates that the only sentence that has been omitted for youths is that of death.

After completing their sentences, imprisoned youths become disoriented because of stigmatisation and guilt (Bolin 2014). This kind of stigma explains why such ex-conflicts find it hard to get good jobs. The consequences associated with an adult conviction can be far-reaching for youth people. This is the case because they find it hard to cope with the abuse and stigma associated with the conviction. Additionally, adjudicating youths within the adult criminal system usually results in negative impacts. This is a clear indication that the current adultification of young people fails to promote the safety of the public.

The current evidence, therefore, supports the importance of a policy change. The current statutes have transformed the kind of punishment available to young offenders. More often than not, youths are forced to serve life sentences despite the fact that they are treated like children by their respective societies. The issue of adultification has continued to affect the welfare of many young people negatively. The malpractice also disorients more youths who have the potential to transform their communities. This problem can, therefore, be addressed by returning every child to the juvenile criminal justice system (Goldson 2013). Additionally, communities should identify and avail new services to youths in order to reduce the number of juvenile offenders.

Conclusion

This essay has shown conclusively that the term childhood is socially constructed and is defined differently in many societies. A common consensus regarding the definition of childhood will address the problem of adultification. The increasing number of youth offenders sentenced in adult courts is something that has transformed the nature of punishment available to juveniles (Goldson 2013). The malpractice has made it impossible for many youths to achieve their goals in life. New policies aimed at placing youth offenders in juvenile courts have the potential to deal with this problem. Provision of evidence-based human services will ensure more youths do not commit various offences. Such measures will improve the situation and promote social welfare.

Reference List

Bolin, R 2014, ‘Adultification in juvenile corrections: A comparison of juvenile and adult officers’, Scholar Commons, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 1-241.

Crofts, T 2016, ‘Reforming the age of criminal responsibility’, South African Journal of Psychology, vol. 46, no. 4, pp. 436-448.

Goldson, B 2013, ‘Unsafe, unjust and harmful to wider society: grounds for raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales’, Youth Justice, vol. 13, no. 2, pp.111-130.

Norozi, S & Moen, T 2016, ‘Childhood as a social construction’, Journal of Educational and Social Research, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 75-80.

Pitts, J 2015, ‘Youth crime and youth justice 2015-2020’, Youth & Policy, vol. 114, no. 1, pp. 31-42.