Juvenile Death Penalty

Lately, there has been much debate about the use of the juvenile death. Mainly, it has grown more intense because of the demand for harsher punishment for especially dangerous and violent adolescents and numerous contentions to the death penalty's legality. However, many people feel that capital punishment should not be a punishment for juvenile offenders who commit murder. A recent poll of Oklahoma residents revealed that 62.8% of those surveyed would support a legislative ban on the execution of juvenile offenders if the alternative sentencing option of life without the possibility of parole were offered (The Oklahoman, 2003).

As the poll shows, many believe that the justice system should not identify people under the age of 18 in the same category as grown men and women, and replacements to capital punishment need to be in place. Juvenile courts have recognized that there are developmental differences between adults and juveniles and advocated appropriate rehabilitative systems.

Still, with the passage of revised death penalty statutes and the increase in violent crimes, the juvenile justice system has seen a shift toward stronger policies and punishments. Supporters see the use of the death penalty as a deterrent against similar crimes or the most appropriate method for punishing certain severe crimes. Opponents, however, believe that there is no deterrent factor, it is inherently cruel, and children should not receive this punishment. Are children as mature as adults? Does trying a child as an adult constitute them as equal?

Juveniles should not receive capital punishment when adolescents are impulsive and lack experiences that give their adult counterparts superior judgment skills; they cannot and should not be held to same level of accountability as adults, and better alternatives are available. Of course, those who advocate the death penalty for juveniles believe executions are the appropriate punishment for certain criminals committing specific crimes suchlike murder. Advocates assure that by executing murderers it prevents them from murdering again and, thereby, do save innocent life.

Supporters say this is proven when it is "[estimated] that convicted criminals free on parole and probation [. . . ] commit 'at least' 84,800 violent crimes every year, including 13,200 murders [… ]" (Sharp). They also argue that murderers have so violated the human rights of their victims and society that it should be a moral imperative that they never again have that opportunity. One brought up the point, "Should we err on the side of caution and protect the innocent and honor the memories of those murdered, or should we give murderers the opportunity to harm again?

" (Sharp). Obviously, those executed cannot murder again. In addition, many capital punishment partisans dispute that, "opponents equate execution and murder" when it is simply a valid punishment. Supporters disagree with their opponents and say that anti-death penalty factions' belief is "that if two acts have the same ending or result, then those two acts are morally equivalent" (Sharp). Well, guess again, no sensible person would see kidnapping and legal incarceration as the same so, why would they see murder and capital punishment as the same.

They are, however, correct in saying that anti-death penalty defenders do not always see capital punishment as the answer. Furthermore, people who oppose allotting capital punishment to juveniles believe execution of a juvenile offender is contrary to fundamental principles of American justice. The justice system punishes according to the degree of culpability and reserves the death penalty for the deviant offenders. Opponents of the death penalty debate that adolescence is a transitional period of life when cognitive abilities, emotions, judgment, impulse control, and identity are still developing.

Scientific, psychological research has illustrated that an adolescents are still developing in many areas such as impulse control and rationalizing. Juveniles are going through a "time of great change, cognitive skills, such as reasoning ability, impulse control, and an understanding of the long-term effects on ones behavior are still very much under development"(Gleed, 2002). Researchers studying the brain say the last section to develop, the frontal lobes, may not mature until a person is age 25 or older.

You could say the frontal lobe is the executive center of the brain, the part of the brain that's responsible for planning, organizing, anticipating the consequences of one's actions. However, the studies have shown that the frontal lobe matures 60% in the one year between 16 and 17, affecting how an adolescent thinks, appears, and behaves; these are powerful mitigating factors in a death penalty case (Stark). Many studies have shown that children commit crimes because of the lack of ability to foresee the consequences of their behaviour and have poor decision-making skills (Kresnak, 2003).

This is again due to the juvenile's insufficient maturity. If maturity was not relevant to deciding sentencing, why does society have regulations suggesting it is extremely pertinent. In addition to immaturity and the inexperienced, undeveloped mind of a juvenile, challengers also contest the death penalty for the reason that there are alternatives available. Admittedly, opponents recognize and uphold the responsibility of society to protect everyone from people who are dangerous. Nonetheless, they do not find it necessary to kill children to accomplish that.

There are well-documented and indisputably persistent problems in the application of the death penalty and in the criminal justice system as a whole in the United States of America (Gleed, 2002). Therefore, those against capital punishment believe other options are more favorable. Such options are imprisonment for life without parole, systems that would force prisoners to pay for their incarcerations, or programs that allow prisoners to work and make indemnities directly to the survivors of their victims.

United States should not lecture about human rights when they kill juvenile offenders habitually and more humane and suitable options are obtainable. Therefore, it is absolutely wrong to give still developing humans capital punishment, which is considered lessening the standards of decency.


  • Attorney General fights stay of execution. (2003, April 3). The Oklahoman. Gleed, Darren. (2002). Stop the internationally illegal juvenile execution of Toronto Patterson. European Coaliton to Abolish the Death Penalty.
  • Retrieved 22 February 2006 from www. oranous. net/toronto/petition. htm Kresnak, Jack. (2003). Juvenile justice: Story ideas. Criminal Justice Journalists.
  • Retrieved 22 February 2006 from www. justicejournalism. org/crimeguide/chapter02/sidebars/chap02_storyideas. html Sharp, Dudley. Death penalty and sentencing information.
  • Retrieved 22 February 2006 from www. prodeathpenalty. com/DP. html Stark, Lisa. World News Tonight.
  • Retrieved 22 February 2006 from http://www.abcnews.go.com