10/10/2011

Teens Tried as Adults A Failure

Experts State Teens More Violent When Placed in Adult Prisons

Juvenile offenders in adult prisons are more likely to be sexually abused and commit suicide. The present system is not working.

1980s and 1990s

As crime by youth was on the upswing in the 80s and 90s, the courts began trying juveniles as adults and giving them longer sentences than juveniles would receive. It seemed to make sense. After all, if a 15-year-old committed armed robbery, he should serve time as an adult. The courts gave little consideration to the maturity level of a 15-year-old or the fact that the teenage brain is not well developed. After twenty years, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has issued a report.

Result Is Failure

Robert L. Johnson, dean of the New Jersey Medical School, states the court actions of the past twenty years have accomplished the following:

  • Laws have not deterred other youth from committing crimes
  • They have not rehabilitated the youth sentenced under them
Johnson is a member of the Task Force on Community Preventive Services assembled by the CDC. The panel reviewed not two or three studies but six. The studies analyzed the effects of sentencing juveniles into adult prisons. Johnson says, "Not only does it not deter youth crime, it actually makes them more violent." A Florida study shows that youth sent into the adult system had 34% more felony arrests after being released than those held in juvenile facilities.
Shay Bilchik, a former prosecutor in Florida, says, "You couldn’t ask for any worse results." Bilchik is now the director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. He was once a supporter of the "try them as adults" trend but has changed his mind. "We’re getting faster recidivism for more serious crimes."

Senate Judiciary Committee

In December two reports were prepared to submit to the Senate as the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act is being considered for reauthorization. The reports call for the youths in adult jails to be housed separately. One would think this would automatically happen, but it does not.

Results

After youth are housed in adult prisons they
  • Commit more crimes
  • Often commit more violent crimes
  • Are more likely to be sexually abused while incarcerated
  • Are more likely to commit suicide
Advocates for juveniles state that our juvenile system is not prepared to help youth at a young age. Not only is the system not helping violent offenders; it is not helping nonviolent offenders. Perhaps the juvenile system needs to become more effective so fewer youth become candidates for the adult system. Something is not working. Hopefully, the Senate will demand change in both how juveniles are rehabilitated and how they are treated if sent to adult prisons.

Dropout Factor

The question needs to be asked how many of these adolescents in the prison system are dropouts? Is this issue partially a school issue and not completely a justice system issue?


Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents - Our Mission is to do better!

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