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The challenges teens face in an adult criminal system

The challenges teens face in an adult criminal system

When a Minneapolis teenager allegedly shot and killed a man after an altercation on a city bus, prosecutors petitioned to have the young man tried as an adult. CBS Minnesota reports that the 16-year-old has been charged with second-degree murder, which can carry with it prison sentences of up to 40 years. As research indicates, the adult criminal system may not be the right place for teenagers.

The issues with the system

Juveniles between the ages of 14 and 17 may be certified as an adult in Minnesota if they meet certain criteria. A 2011 report from the National Institute of Corrections estimates that every year, nearly 250,000 juveniles are teens charged with adult crimes. The report notes putting youth through the adult system can be problematic for several reasons, including the following:

  • Juveniles in adult systems are not safe during the pretrial, post-conviction and correctional periods, as they may be subject to victimization and abuse.
  • Youths who are put through an adult corrections system recidivate at a higher rate than those who enter the juvenile system, as they are 34 percent more likely to be convicted of a subsequent crime.
  • Critical information to youths’ rehabilitation is not collected, such as how juvenile cases are resolved in the adult system and the types of educational services those youth receive.

Juveniles need a pathway to rehabilitation in order to leave the court system and go on to lead productive lives. The adult system often fails to provide such a process.

The issues with competency

In addition to an inappropriate infrastructure, the adult criminal system also does not take into account the mindset of a juvenile. The Children’s Advocacy Alliance released a report in which experts state that the severity of a crime such as aggravated robbery should not dictate whether or not a teenager is tried as an adult. Youths often lack the mental capacity and maturity to make decisions the way an adult would. Adolescents tend to act on impulse or instinct without thinking about the consequences of their actions.

Tried in the adult system, the consequences of a youth’s actions could be much more serious. Adult sentences are often associated with longer jail sentences and probation periods, whereas juvenile court systems aim to educate and rehabilitate a youth. In Minnesota, there are a number of mandatory sentences associated with certain adult crimes, but judges in juvenile courts have much more flexibility. Anyone with questions regarding teens who are tried in the adult court system should contact a defense attorney.

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