Juvenile Justice: Keeping Teens Out of Jail

A recent incident involving an eight year old murder suspect has reignited the debate over the age at which children should be charged as adults. “Experts Doubt That 8-Year-Old’s Taped Confession in Double Killing Is Admissible,” New York Times, Nov. 21, 2008 True, this was a highly unusual case (As Dr. Tom Grisso, one of the authors who contributed to The Future of Children volume on Juvenile Justice, noted to the New York Times, trying an eight year old as an adult would be “more than extraordinary. It would be totally unique.” And predictably, the jurisdiction issue has since been resolved (it is now in juvenile court with a plea agreement being offered). But the case did raise the more common issue of when it is appropriate to treat juveniles as adults and move them from the juvenile justice system to the criminal justice system.

According to a recent Future of Children policy brief both widely accepted legal principles and research on adolescent immaturity argue that juveniles are less responsible for their criminal behavior than adults and should there­fore receive less severe punishment. Research shows that harsh punishment in adult facilities increases the probability of future violent crimes and that most youngsters who commit criminal offenses will abandon illegal behavior as they enter adulthood. Scien­tific evaluations of prevention and treatment programs for youth that provide systematic treatment in community and family settings show that these programs significantly re­duce future criminal behavior without the need for harsh sanctions. States should adapt their laws on juvenile crime to emphasize evidence-based treatment and to avoid harsh punishment for all but repeat violent offenders. (From “Keeping Adolescents out of Prison,” by Laurence Steinberg and Ron Haskins). This issue was discussed in depth at recent Future of Children conference on this topic.

4 thoughts on “Juvenile Justice: Keeping Teens Out of Jail

  1. johnstfus

    Yes I agree with this point considering an eight old as an adult is extra ordinary and in future these kids may turn to other criminal activities with the hard adult environment. Being a kid, they needs to be treated in that way and with-in a structured environment that makes them to learn the consequences of bad behavior. The authorities need to be more cautious in providing better care for troubled youth

  2. Sharon Wong

    It’s so important that we are there for our children and are able to communicate with them, because it seems like the less we do, the more likely they are to run the streets. I talk with my 2 kids all the time and between me and my husband, make sure to instill in them the right things to do.

  3. Help for troubled teens

    There are many health care providers and services offered by many institutions for preventing adolescent violent behaviour the methods, programs and treatments offered by the institutions are unique in range and are focussed on each and every teen separately and applied so to improve their psychological behaviour and thinking, parents looking for help for troubled teens will find the post useful.

  4. Lisa McElaney, Principal Investigator, "Youth Violence Prevention Training"

    There is a role for pediatric and family health care providers in the prevention of violence involving adolescents and children. Our NIH funded study will result in a training for medical residents and practitioners and a clinical trial to test the efficacy of the intervention.

    Our Phase I results suggest that clinicians hesitate to take up tasks of violence prevention in well-child and emergency visits because they feel they don’t “have the words to discuss children’s exposure to violence”. They also worry that if they follow recommended protocols and subsequently uncover potential child abuse, the presence of arms in the home, suicidality, etc., they won’t know what to do next, given lack of community resources. Clinicians also reported that their concern for limiting primary care visits to proscribed time durations may interfere with effective teaching about violence prevention.

    We welcome input and participation from experts in the field as we prepare for Phase II implementation of our study.

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