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Juveniles are Not Adults Just Because They Commit Violent Crimes

Youth and justice advocates argue that it is illogical: charging young men and women as adults because they commit certain crimes. For example, does committing a violent crime change whether a juvenile is, in fact, not an adult and still in the process of maturing?

A recent Baltimore Sun piece reacts to Maryland’s current practice of treating juveniles as adults within the criminal justice system. Sources report that the state can charge juveniles as adults for at least 33 different offenses, and a judge can decide on an individual case basis whether to try young suspects as adults.

Being tried and convicted as adults means that youths spend time in adult correctional facilities (even before a conviction) and face harsher sentences upon conviction. When tried as juveniles, young offenders are given more opportunities for rehabilitation, and they are saved from the damage that getting caught in the adult system can do to a young life.

Advocates for changing the frequency with which juveniles are treated as adults in the system point to the fact that most of the cases involving youth that start out at adult status end up being handled as juvenile cases. That might sound like good news since the sentencing would be less severe, but the time spent in adult facilities throughout the legal process puts youths at risk, mentally and physically.

One Baltimore mother feels that her son’s spirit was destroyed when, at 15, he spent two years in an adult correctional facility. The charges against the boy were ultimately dropped, but according to the mother, those two years were enough to take away her son’s “reason to smile.” In Maryland, there are currently 13 young suspects being held in adult facilities who have been there for over a year while the cases against them are pending.

Advocates for the safety and healthy futures of youths are pushing for more juvenile cases to begin in juvenile court and only transition into the adult system when a judge has the chance to make that educated decision. They argue that such a strategy would not only potentially save the lives of youths, but it would also help build stronger communities.

Baltimore Sun: “Keep kids out of adult court,” John Nethercut, 6 Oct. 2010

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