The results of a child’s rehabilitation often depend on resources invested in this process, as, in Geraghty’s opinion, richer families often have a better chance to rehabilitate their children after criminal offenses (Geraghty, 1997, p. 190). This demonstrates that psychology and counselling are powerful means of dealing with criminals, and the psychological state of the juvenile offender does matter in his or her posterior life. These are other reasons to maintain separation of juvenile courts from adults ones and limit transfers of minor offenders to criminal courts.
The trial of children in juvenile courts is more justified because the range of their offences is usually less serious than with older criminals. Most professionals agree that the scope of juvenile offense for the most part encompasses “acts such as petty larceny, minor assaults, disorderly conduct, underage drinking, truancy, and running away from home” (Dodge, 2000, p. 52). Retaliating for these crimes with a full-blown adult sentence is hardly effective and can result in negative consequences both for the offender and society that will receive a hardened criminal where the system could have spared him or her from imprisonment at all.
The restorative justice system that begins to gain popularity is expected to be far more effective in helping criminals overcome their past and return to society as normal rehabilitated members. The treatment of juvenile offenders in a special way and in special courts is based on the assumption that “there are significant psychological differences between adolescents and adults, and that these differences are provoked by the normal process of development, age-related, and legally relevant” (Steinberg, 2000, p.1).
This premise seems sound given everything that is known about adolescent development. In this light, the treatment of adolescents with full considerations of their age-related peculiarities seems totally justified from the legal and social standpoint. The Culpability of Young Offenders While the public no longer views minor offenders as children unaware of what they are doing, most people believe that they are in any case “less culpable than adults” (Grisso, Scott, 1997, p. 137).
The ability of young adults to withstand a criminal trial exercising the same capabilities as adults is not indisputable. The young can command less ability to participate in adult trial both by virtue of their inferior ability to make judgements concerning their criminal actions and their limited knowledge and understanding of the court proceedings. Adults tried in criminal courts can have a better chance of acquittal because of their more mature understanding of life and improved experience.
Research shows that many children are not as competent as adults to stand trial in a criminal court. Grisso et al (2003) demonstrates that many children younger than 15 cannot stand criminal trial. Adults are considered incompetent to stand trial only if there is a severe mental impairment. However, Grisso et al (2003) shows that about one-third of those aged between 11 and 13 and a fifth of those between 14 and 15 demonstrate the same level of competence as mentally affected adults. At the same time, there is no to little difference in the capacities of older adolescents and adults.
This suggests that children can be seriously disadvantaged compared to adults if they are not given an opportunity to stand trial considering their abilities. Steinberg (2000) explains lack of adjudicative competence in adolescents by lower level of development in several important faculties: “ability to engage in hypothetical and logical decision-making, to demonstrate reliable episodic memory, to extend thinking into the future…, to be able to take perspective of others, and to understand and articulate one’s own motives and psychological state”.
Since all these capacities are underdeveloped in many youngsters compared to adults, a fact that is to be expected given that they are in the process of development, this impacts their adjudicative competence negatively. Adolescents will in their absolute majority have well-developed faculties of the above list at age 16; however, at 13 the picture may be more varied. Adolescents in criminal courts are placed in an adversarial model of justice, while in juvenile courts the pattern can be more cooperative.
All of the above suggests that many adolescents can be unprepared to be tried in the same way as adults are. Conclusion Trial of adolescents in adult criminal courts in the same way as adults can result in negative outcomes that will jeopardize the effectiveness of the process. Evidence from the research points to increases in recidivism after trials in which adolescents are transferred to criminal justice courts. This can be explained by lack of attention to the restorative side of justice in such trials and impossibility to attend to the special needs of younger offenders.
Many of those are unable to stand criminal trial on a par with older offenders as they are impaired in their ability to make judgements and defend their interests in adversarial environments. Further research can focus on how else increased recidivism rates are linked to transfers to criminal courts and how juvenile courts can more effectively address adolescent needs.
References 1. Bishop, D. , Frazier, C. , Lanza-Kaduce, L. , & White, H. 1996. The transfer of juveniles to criminal court: Does it make a difference?
Crime & Delinquency 42, 171-191. 2. Dodge, L. M. (2000). Our Juvenile Court Has Become More like a Criminal Court": A Century of Reform at the Cook County. Michigan Historical Review 26(2), 51+. 3. Fagan, J. (1995). Separating the men from the boys: The comparative advantage of juvenile versus criminal court sanctions on recidivism among adolescent felony offenders. In B. J. Howell, B. Krisberg, J. D. Hawkins, & J. Wilson (Eds. ). A Sourcebook: Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.