Young Offenders Cannot Be Tried As Adults

April 1, 2011
By Dan_B SILVER, Toronto, Other
Dan_B SILVER, Toronto, Other
5 articles 0 photos 1 comment

Popularized by cheesy cop flicks, the line: “you do the crime, you do the time”, is often used as an argument by those in support of harsher penalties for criminals. In reality, though, should this motto apply to young offenders?

The reasons why we as a society try criminals must be outlined first. The traditional five according to mainstream penology are: retribution, denunciation, deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation.

I’m willing to concede the first. Retribution means inflicting punishment upon the criminal for the sake of inflicting punishment. It’s an end in itself, and acts as a moral equivocator. Being under the legal age of majority does not mean the absence of morality, as youths do understand the difference between right and wrong. Therefore, if one is adamant about retribution, they should support trying youths as adults. However, doing this is very short-sighted as it comes at the cost of rehabilitation and incapacitation.

Before examining those two, I must point out that “denunciation” is a useless, foolish goal. Denunciation in the context of sentencing means that the judge or jury punishes the criminal in order to publicly denounce the act. This implies that society needs the judiciary’s sentences to understand what’s right and wrong. It suggests that people would be morally lost – in a demonic ethical haze – without just rulings by honest & upright judges. If you truly believe in denunciation — hey wait a second! I forgot you can’t.

There is substantial evidence that implementing harsher laws for young offenders doesn’t result in a decrease of youth crime. In the 2006 case of R. v. BWP, which involved a teenager who killed another youth in a fight, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that deterrence should not be taken into account when trying young offenders. One explanation is that due to the underdeveloped prefrontal cortex of the teenage brain, teens are more likely to act out of emotion without considering the consequences. Thus, harsher punishments for young offenders have not shown to deter youth crime as the punishment would not be taken into consideration when the illegal act is committed.

The most important aspect of trying young offenders is rehabilitation. This is because unlike adult sentencing, rehabilitation of young offenders is tied directly to incapacitation. The purpose of incapacitation is to make the criminal incapable of doing further harm to society – or in layman’s terms – keeping the delinquent locked away from the outside world for a long, long time. The problem with young offenders is that even if they commit a serious crime, they will still walk free in prime criminal age – unless convicted of an unusually heinous crime. Unlike adults who are relatively old when charged with a serious offence, teens will not be in incapacitation (behind bars) when physically capable of a number of offences. If they are sentenced as adults, to an adult prison, they will leave prison not only young, but also more dangerous after staying in an environment full of hardened criminals. This is supported by countless re-offence statistics. In this case, judicial sentencing fails in its goal of keeping the public safe, while also ignoring the aim of rehabilitating offenders.

The excellent thing about youth sentencing is that it focuses on rehabilitation while adult sentencing does not. This is done through counselling, specialized programs, and often, lighter prison terms in exchange for community service. Unfortunately, this has caused many to deem it “soft” treatment despite its intent is to turn youth away from lives as career criminals. At a disregard for public safety in the long term, supporters of adult sentences for youth fall back on an overly retributive theory of justice centering on: “you do the crime, you do the time”; assert the importance of asinine denunciation; insist that – against all major studies – that harsher punishments will deter youth crime; and disregard that rehabilitation is a principle of sentencing. This position is illogical and counter-productive, and in conclusion, youth sentencing for young offenders is not.

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This article has 1 comment.

on Nov. 29 2011 at 11:14 am
i think you need to ... keep up the good work


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