Academic level – Undergraduate 3-4
Type of paper – Coursework
Topic Title – Juvenile Justice
Define the effectiveness of juvenile justice.
By the definition you used, is the US juvenile justice system effective? Support your position with the evidence from the four cases. You may also add evidence or statistics from other credible sources. In your view, is processing juvenile offenders as adults an effective alternative? Defend your position with persuasive reasoning.
The effectiveness of juvenile justice is its ability to positively support juvenile offenders in their rehabilitation and reintegration into society and assist them in avoiding any potential crime repetitions. The current juvenile system of justice is ineffective because it has significantly invested in making it easier for juveniles to be tried as adults, which eventually leads to recidivism and poor social adaptation (Augustyn & McGloin, 2017). These outcomes are precisely the ones that criminal justice should avoid. Several cases illustrate that this pattern has been continuous for decades in the U.S.
The cases of the West Memphis Three and Brenda Spencer demonstrate a continuous lack of understanding of teenage behavior development, which even led to unfair convictions. Brenda Spencer’s case was among the first that became one of the most severe school shootings. She was tried as an adult; the criminal justice system ignored that although Spencer was viewed as an adult from the criminal justice perspective, the law had previously ignored her need for psychiatric treatment because her father decided not to proceed with it (Sniping subject, 1979). Furthermore, the data reveals how the adverse stereotypes about teenagers can become sufficient evidence in some courts to try them simply for “suspicious” yet typical teenage behavior. In the book dedicated to Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin, the author writes that the teenagers were tried as adults and sentenced to severe sentencing, which later became overturned (Leveritt, 2003). This case revealed that the three boys were tried so harshly because they were teenagers, not due to their crimes.
Furthermore, Catherine and Curtis Jones and Christian Fernandez’s cases also display the failure of justice to protect children and only punish them after they were refused help. All three children were abused either physically or sexually. In Jones’ situation, children were repeatedly sexually assaulted by their family members, but the police did not guard them (Torres, 2015). The system decided to intervene only when the offenders killed their father’s girlfriend in a feat of panic. Similarly, Christian Fernandez, who killed his toddler brother, was reportedly harmed, which taught him about such violent behaviors (Matter, 2018). While he was tried as a juvenile offender, it was a result of his defense team. Such narratives reveal the system’s utter failure to understand the juveniles’ needs and specificities, which offers them zero protection but requires full accountability.
I firmly believe that trying juveniles as adults is one of the worst practices in the U.S. justice system and should be entirely banned. There is conflicting data on whether juvenile waiver causes recidivism: sources tend to contradict each other. However, offenders who were tried as adults expressed feelings of anger and frustration with the unfair treatment (Augustyn & McGloin, 2017). Such decisions do not help them return to society; even more, ex-offenders face economic and social problems that continue affecting their adult lives. Williams (2020) states that adolescents are more prone to delinquent behaviors, especially when they suffered from childhood traumas, and trying them as adults only further victimizes them. Thus, I think the juvenile system requires severe changes that will focus on helping juveniles, not punishing them when their mental and physical development is incomplete. It only further deepens the gap between healthy and troubling behaviors, causing them to relive their punishments as a result.
Augustyn, M. B. & McGloin, J. (2018). Revisiting juvenile waiver: Integrating the incapacitation experience. Criminology, 56(1), 154–190. https://doi.org/10.1111/1745-9125.12165
Matter, B. (2018, January 16). Cristian Fernandez, 19, to be released years after killing Toddler brother. Action News Jax. https://www.actionnewsjax.com/news/local/cristian-fernandez-19-to-be-released-years-after-killing-toddler-brother/684186149/
Leveritt, M. (2003). Devil’s knot: The true story of the West Memphis Three. Atria.
Sniping suspect had a grim goal. (1979). The Milwaukee Journal.
Torres, J. A. (2015, August 1). Documents unveil history of abuse for young Brevard Killers. https://www.wtsp.com/article/news/local/documents-unveil-history-of-abuse-for-young-brevard-killers/67-236282393
Williams, A. (2020). Childhood trauma impact on adolescent brain development, decision making abilities, and delinquent behaviors: Policy implications for juveniles tried in adult court systems. Juvenile & Family Court Journal, 71(1), 5-17.https://doi:10.1111/jfcj.12157