Tulsa, OK Criminal Defense & Family Law Blog

Monday, March 21, 2016

Prosecutors Sending Juveniles to Adult Courts

What is the rationale for sending juvenile offenders to adult courts?

A myth generated in the 1990s and reported in The New York Times referred to as "The Superpredator Scare," demonized young people, particularly boys and girls of color. The mistaken belief that they would grow up without consciences, and be "brutally remorseless" led to laws making it easier to prosecute juveniles as adults. Unfortunately, this policy has continued until the present day. According to Al Jazzara, there are currently about 250,000 juveniles in the United States who are being "tried, sentenced or incarcerated each year as adults."

Downside of Demonizing Youngsters

Up to the present time, the courts have continued to send kids to adult prisons in spite of the predictably terrible results. Some of the negatives about imprisoning young people with adults are:

  • There are few or no resources available to encourage normal teen development
  • There is an extremely high risk to the youngsters of being assaulted, raped, or becoming suicides
  • Youths tried in adult courts can end up with lifelong criminal records
  • In 15 states & the District of Columbia, judges can make unilateral decisions about this matter*
  • There is no requirement that the court proceedings be made intelligible to the child being tried

    *Judges have this discretion in California, Michigan, DC, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, 

       Vermont, Wyoming, Virginia, Arizona, Arkansas and Colorado.

The inequity of the system now in place is blatant. Not only is there no real standard applied in regard to which children can be incarcerated with adults (which means a child's fate may lie in the hands of a particular judge who answers to no one or may differ depending only on the state in which the child resides), but the child in question may have no delinquency record, may have played only a minor part in the crime in question, and may have been previously diagnosed with a mental illness.

Worst Offender States

More cases of 15- to 16-year-olds being sent to adult court occur in Florida than in any other state. Further evidence of injustice is evident in the fact that 39 percent of these children lived in poverty before they were imprisoned. Additionally, there is racial bias at work in the state (and elsewhere), since 60 percent of the children arrested in Florida are Black or Latino, but 76 percent of those are sent to adult court. In Louisiana, the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights, found that "13 percent - more than one in eight - of New Orleans' transferred children, are eventually found not guilty, have their charges dismissed, or are found to be incompetent and legally ineligible to be prosecuted." This means that a large number of children are put through this trauma without cause.

Medical Studies Repudiate the Way the Legal System Functions

Various medical studies in the field of neuroscience back up the understanding that the juvenile brain differs from the adult brain in a number of ways. Children's brains have been proven to be more geared toward:

  • Impulsivity
  • Risk-taking
  • Poor planning for the future
  • Lack of foresight of consequences
  • Poor decision-making
  • Bad judgment
  • This indicates that adolescents will make different decisions as adults, assuming they are given the chance to develop normally.

    Harsh Punishment of Children Only Increases Recidivism

    Far from discouraging youngsters who have committed crimes from behaving badly again, adult prison reinforces a negative perspective against authority and a distorted world view, greatly increasing the rate of recidivism. While some states have improved laws regulating the transfer of youngsters into the adult courts, much more needs to be done.

    If your child has been suspected of, or charged with, a crime, you should waste no time in contacting an experienced and compassionate attorney who specializes in juvenile defense. Such an act could change the course of your child's life.

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