The Culpability of Youth

7In court cases where a juvenile is tried for severe crimes, the argument that adolescents are still mentally developing is often used do lessen their culpability. While I agree that minors still lack complete maturity, and have a greater tendency to make mistakes, we are still reasonable beings who understand the moral implications of our actions. Despite my belief that minors are culpable of crimes, I am not trying to encourage the death penalty, what I mean to accomplish by saying this is to make a distinction between actions caused immaturity and moral depravity. A large percentage of juvenile murderers have a history of abuse. They have lived in a different world with different rules from us so their moral understanding may have been completely twisted; however, since this is not a product of immaturity, it should not be thought that all youths are incapable of making basic moral distinctions between good and evil. There are differences between an immature, rashly acting youth, and a murderer shaped by his circumstances and deprived of common sense. Although we are young and lack the experience and judgment adults do, our immaturity should not be a factor in determining the culpability of our crimes as we know what is acceptable in our society and what is not, however, some juvenile criminals have grown up with corrupted principles taught to them by a backwards upbringing. The background, in which these youths grew up in, should be considered as an important factor in deciding their culpability in court, instead of our age.

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Building a Respectful Fear of the Law

Child's hands in handcuffs

There are some situations when leniency is needed, but in general, the best approach to juvenile crime is a tough stand against it. Most offenders commit crimes under the awareness that their actions are morally wrong. An example for this can be found in large, organized gangs, which are active in illegal businesses and use violence as a staple of their lifestyle. These types of criminals are completely responsible for their actions, and willingly harm others for their own interests. In a documentary by Frontline, “Juvenile Justice”, four cases of adolescent criminals were documented, one of these criminals, Manny, assaulted a family with the help of two other gang members. In the attack, Manny and his gang assaulted four men, two of them stabbed, and a pregnant woman who was repeatedly hit in the stomach with a baseball bat. Awarding leniency to Manny and his two friends would encourage crime and the mistaken belief that it is tolerated. In these cases, I believe that a more aggressive approach and the threat of justice with a disregard of age would be the most effective method in limiting and deterring adolescents from participating in violent crime. Protecting adolescents from getting their due punishment would insinuate the thought that the young go unpunished. According to Larry Siegel in his book, “Juvenile Delinquency: Theory, Practice, and Law.”  Research by John Worrall and Tomislav Kovandzic has found that cities which have increased their police force and aggressively enforced the law have shown a decrease in the rate of juvenile crimes. Worrall and Kovandzic’s findings make it evident that when more minors feel the threat of punishment, they will feel less “safe” in committing a crime, and so fewer adolescents will associate with dangerous criminal activities. While I know that it will be emotionally painful to condemn adolescent criminals with a harsh sentence, in the knowledge that their lives will be irreversibly changed, we should remember that these criminals are responsible for their severe actions which merit them severe punishments. In the long term, a more aggressive movement for justice will discourage criminals, and send the message that bloodshed of innocents is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

The Issue of Juvenile Crime

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There appears to be a problem in our country today. In the media recently, there seems to be an increase in the number of violent crimes occurring. These senseless acts of violence include murder, sexual offenses, and shootings. What makes these severe crimes even more incomprehensible is that many of them were committed by youths with long lives ahead of them. From my observation, there seems to be much controversy and indecisiveness in dealing with these young criminals; some people believe that these youths should be treated leniently, giving them opportunity to reform, while others believe that a strict punishment should be enforced to serve as a warning to other adolescents, preventing them from committing crimes. There is a need for concrete standards in giving mercy; I personally believe that a person’s age should not matter in determining the severity of his punishment. Most people, including minors, know that they are responsible for their actions and should be expected to be held responsible for them. Too much leniency for minors is very likely the reason why so many adolescents are indifferent to the law and are willing to break them without any fear of punishment. The law should be strictly enforced and upheld to discourage crimes, especially those of violent nature, however, I do believe that there is an appropriate place and time for leniency in the court, and in some situations, it is actually needed.