The Issue of Prosecuting Juvenile Offenders as Adults

Does a child instantly become an adult when they have committed a criminal offense? Or do they to some extent maintain an amount of childhood, despite the kind and the gravity of offense they have committed? These are questions that have dominated the legal system in the US today, considering the increased reports of juvenile offenders. Most states in the US have passed new laws concerning juvenile offender trials as adults. The two assumptions regarding this juvenile trial state that: “the juvenile offenders will be sentenced according to the harsh adult criminal system and that this threat will lower the crime rates committed by juveniles” (Dupee, 2002). This paper will focus on analyzing the issue of prosecuting juvenile offenders as adults and the consequences of this strict legislation.

Ever since the juvenile courts were put up a hundred years ago, the basic assumption has always been that young offenders should not be tried in the adult criminal system. After all, the reason for creating these courts was to handle the young offenders according to who they are rather than the kind of crime committed. The purpose of a juvenile court is obvious, for it is meant to guide the young offender rather than punish him or her. Following the rise of juvenile offenses in 1980s and 1990s, the entire public requested the government to get tough on young offenders thus the ruling that they should be tried as adults (Redding, 2003). From this time, some states enacted laws that made young offenders trial easier and others called for the abolishing of juvenile courts.

There are various reasons why a juvenile offender can be tried as an adult. A juvenile offender posing a great threat to his or her age mates and the entire public should be tried as an adult. Such an offender usually commits an offense that requires severe punishment. Generally, if the crime committed by the juvenile is severe, then they cannot be tried in juvenile courts but in adult crime courts. In many cases, the fundamental question asked is whether children have the capability to understand the kind of consequences their actions may have. With reference to Jordan Brown case, the 11 year old who murdered his father’s girlfriend, one can understand why he could not be tried as a juvenile but like an adult. Jordan murdered the pregnant woman simply because he was “jealous;” this shows the severity of the crime he committed without enough reason for his actions (Layzell, 2005).

For heinous crimes like robbery, rape, murder, and assault, the juvenile should be tried in an adult court so as to get punishment best deserved for such actions. Considering the fact that the end result of any heinous crime is always the same despite the offender, young offenders should be tried in adult court systems. Just like an adult, the justice system should hold any young perpetrator responsible for whatever they have done.

Another reason why young offenders should be tried as adults emanates from the fact that, harsh punishment deters young people from committing crimes. Research has shown that, trying juvenile offenders as adults has coincided with decrease in crimes committed by young people (Redding, 2005). The legal system has argued that, giving light sentences to young offenders who have committed heinous offenses does not teach children important issues concerning crime. Today, children are getting sophisticated at young age therefore they understand the kind of implications their violent actions may have. With the news coverage airing effects of violence in the TVs today, it is absurd for an individual to claim that young people do not understand the issues related with killing.

Research shows that, many young offenders understand and know how to load a gun and shoot; this gives a clear indication that they actually know whatever they are doing. Severe punishment like life imprisonment can teach other young people who have an intention of committing a crime (Dupee, 2005).

Minors who have had a long juvenile record are tried in adult courts for their repeated bad actions show that they are no longer children. A young offender who repeatedly commits crime indicates the failure of an effort to have him or her rehabilitated. Trying such an offender in an adult court system may reduce his or her chances of committing extra damage.

To some extent, poor human morals can never be corrected in rehabilitation centers. According to Leyzell, “morals are inherent from birth, acknowledging the right from the wrong and the respect of following those lines are unchangeable foundations a person is built upon from the beginning (2005). Many people argue that the minors are not usually aware of the significance their actions could have. However, it is has been established that, many minors do understand what they are doing when coming heinous crimes. For instance, in the case of Jamie Bulger a two year old boy was taken out, mutilated and murdered by two ten year olds.

The two young offenders then laid Jamie’s body on the railroad track to cause injuries that would cover up what they had done. These two boys had set out to hurt and kill a child for fun; they knew very well the consequences thus they deserved to be tried as adults. Taking these two to a juvenile detention or rehabilitation would not teach them anything concerning their crime; carrying out such a brutal murder just for fun requires a severe punishment.

Generally, juveniles will be tried in adult courts if: they are charged with serious offenses, they have had a long juvenile criminal record, they are old enough to understand the consequences of what they are doing, and efforts to rehabilitate them in the past has been unsuccessful (Redding, 2003).

On the other hand, trying juvenile offenders as adult is said to undermine justice and the safety of the public. Adult criminal courts are designed to tackle crimes committed by adults. According to Redding, “adult criminal system has an adversarial process, it is rigid and hierarchical thus cannot allow a young mind to understand the system” (2005). The transfer of juvenile cases to the adult criminal system results to wastage of time and decreased public safety. Sometimes, the punishment given to a minor in adult criminal justice system is harsher than it should be; this cause emotional trauma to the offender and the family.

There are enough reasons to try young offenders in adult crime courts and at the same time there are reasons to allow the juvenile courts try minors. Any crime committed by a juvenile should be treated in similar regard; either to punish the act or ensure justice is administered to the victim’s families. Juveniles can be tried in adult courts if they have committed serious offenses, if they have past criminal records, and if they cannot be completely rehabilitated.


Dupee, S. (2002). Juveniles tried as adults. The California School of Professional Psychology handbook of juvenile forensic psychology, 1 (2), 77.

Layzell, J. (2005). Should juveniles be tried as adults? Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press.

Redding, R. (2005). What do juvenile offenders know about being tried as adults? Implications for Deterrence. Villanova University Legal Working Paper Series, 1, 29.

Redding, R. (2003). The effects of adjudicating and sentencing juveniles as adults. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 1 (2), 128-155.

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