Until the early 20th century, in most nations children offenders were handled like adults and were put through the same fines as adults, which included hard labor corporal punishment, death sentences, and even life imprisonment. At this time, there was no separate entity for a juvenile offender in the legal system and minors as young as six years were locked up in prisons. However, it is appreciated that most countries today subject juveniles to a separate justice system that puts into consideration their immaturity and their inexperience. Adult courts are not well-equipped to handle needs of juvenile criminals.
As such, the juvenile justice system has been established with the sole purpose of serving the best interests of the youth, considering that they have different needs than adults. Presently, there are special cases whereby juveniles are tried in adult courts. Some nations have ratified laws known as transfer laws that provide for the transfer of cases from the juvenile court to the adult one (Zagar, Busch, Hughes, and Arbit 186). What is the impact of trying a juvenile in the adult criminal justice system? The paper seeks to answer the above question by reviewing available literature.
Over the past several years, laws that allow for movement of youth offenders into the adult judiciary system have become common in the U.S. due to an increased crime index by the youth. The main increase in these laws has been due to a fear that the youth could become ‘superpredators’, which in fact did not happen. Dreadful effects of these laws are still felt presently. This has made it easier for juveniles to be prosecuted in adult courts although there is a notable decrease in offences perpetrated by the youth. Findings of various studies point out that over two thousand young people of eighteen years of age and below are prosecuted every year in adult courts (National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) Report).
Many researchers unanimously agree that policies used for the transfer of cases into the adult system have dire consequences, as demonstrated by the current research. These policies affect the youth in an un-proportional manner compared to their equivalents in the juvenile justice system as they are subject to receiving harsher treatments. Juveniles moved to adult courts normally get high rates of pretrial confinement and are often imprisoned in adult facilities. Adult correctional facilities do not have resources and the infrastructure for development of the youth. Moreover, they are exposed to an excessive risk of being assaulted and abused. In general, the policies have not shown any confirmed deterrence, but instead have led to a rise in the repetition of crimes by offenders.
Some juvenile cases are moved to adult court via a process known as ‘waiver’. This occurs when a judge waives protection enjoyed by the youth offered by the juvenile court. Cases subjected to waiver are normally those involving very serious offences or when the offence is not the first one of the offender. Below is a list of factors that might make the court grant a waiver for the movement of a case into the adult system:
- A youth offender is charged with a specific serious offense;
- The offender has a history of criminal record;
- The juvenile appears to be older;
- Previous efforts to rehabilitate the juvenile have proved to be futile;
- Youth services will need to be attached to the juvenile for a longer period.
Most of the researches have shown that the rate of conviction is very high for juveniles transferred to the adult system. Though this fluctuates by jurisdictions, the reports put the conviction rate at averagely 85% for violent youth offenders (Tracy, Kempf-Leonard, and Abramoske-James 171). As per the incarceration, studies carried out show a high rate of incarceration for convicted youth offenders in both crimes with violence and without violence. Transferred juveniles convicted of violent crimes are more likely to receive imprisonment than those with non-violent crimes.
The youth tried in the adult system also have a high tendency of receiving longer sentences. The prerogative for transfer undertakes that the adult court is equipped to handle the youth for whom juvenile court dispositions are insufficient. Most studies show that transferred juveniles get longer sentences. Location of imprisonment for the convicted youth is affected by the transfer. Juveniles prosecuted in adult courts are more likely to be held in adult jails unlike those in the juvenile system. Experiences in adult jails are more or less the same as those in adult prisons.
Transferred juveniles experience relative delays in the processing of cases. Unlike in the juvenile system where the case is processed on time, much time is involved and the offender will be kept in temporary detention during the transfer process and hearings. Lastly, transfer has not proven to be successful in deterring the youth from crime. On the contrary, studies have found that it has increased the rate of recidivism among young offenders. This is majorly because it has been found to deny the youth access to services and resources that are essential for their development (Benekos and Merlo 28).
Juvenile criminals are tried and prosecuted in a juvenile court, which is separate from the conventional adult judicial system. There are laws that allow for the transfer of cases from the juvenile court to the adult one. Transfer policies are divergent with the fundamental principles of justice. The juvenile court has been created to protect interests of juvenile offenders as the adult court does not have the necessary mechanism. The majority of studies have found out that the youth whose cases are moved to adult courts are impacted disproportionally. They more often receive severe sentences and are placed in adult facilities that are more violent for their age. This indicates that justice is not attained by forcing the youth through a system never indented for them.