Changes in the Law
The paper is a critical analysis and reaction on the current laws that protect children or teenagers against criminal liability of offenses such as murder. Currently, the laws state that any person under age of 18 years is not subjected to any legal charges that are afforded to adults. There are ethical and legal implications of subjecting a criminal trial of a minor in commission of murder and other related crimes. More than the legal sphere, the justice system is legally bounded on charging children for murder that leads to the controversial nature of the said issue.
One of the prevailing reasons for the existing laws is that it is more difficult to charge the juvenile delinquent of murder charges because of the age. It is assumed that children or teenagers still have insufficient capacity to make moral decisions. With the low level of moral capacity, the children or teenagers are not treated as ordinary criminals. Psychologically speaking, a minor has yet to distinguish right from wrong as compared with adult offenders. In other words, the sense of morality is still weak (Parry 2004).
This would also imply that any misbehavior perform by the juvenile delinquent can still be rehabilitated by the appropriate institutions. The misbehavior may have only resulted from poor parenting. In most cases, teenagers or children may be solitary rebelling from the lack of attention of the family or parents. If this is the case, it is assumed that they can still be reformed through the help of social services or counselors to be designated by the government. Thus, criminalizing children should not be done because of the said assumptions.
The second reason for the controversy of subjecting into trial minor offenders is the cases of criminal syndicates using teenagers to commit crimes. There has been an increase in the rate of cases when teenagers belong to gangs that enable them to perform criminal acts like robbery, theft, and others. In this context, children are not liable for their own actions and the adult offenders are the ones who should be prosecuted.
Based on statistics, there was an increase of juvenile delinquents from 1,840,400 to 7,225,800 in the periods from 1980 – 2009. An important indicator was the age of the offenders that were categorized as minors. This is a serious concern that should be addressed by the government institutions because it merely implies the mechanisms that intend to prevent the prevalence of crime in the country are not effective. Another alarming data is the comparison between the adults and the juvenile delinquents. Although the data from the website implies that adults have greater numerical statistics than the juvenile delinquents, the rate of crime being committed from the latter is still a serious concern. In other words, it is already a given reality that crimes are usually committed by adults. However, the data suggests that young children are also more than capable of committing crime just as their adult counterparts (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2007).
To elaborate, it was found out that factors that contribute to the increase crime rate were drug use, gender, alcohol intake, race and age of the arrested perpetuators of crime. It is not surprising that 67% of the cases were males. The said sector was higher in rate as compared with female offenders, 49% to be exact. Furthermore, the rape and other sexual assault cases were committed through narcotic and alcohol intakes of the perpetuators. This would imply that the illegal drugs contribute significantly to execution of a crime.
If critically scrutinized, the rate of crimes done by juvenile delinquents is constantly increasing in similar manner with the adult offenders based on the reports. The stated data is already on the alarming level since age is no longer a factor in the commission of crime. Unlike before, teenagers are now capable of committing serious crimes such as robbery, murder, and others (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2007). The Nevada situation does not depart significantly from the overall statistics in terms of crime rate of juvenile delinquents. The data in the mentioned state would also show that juvenile delinquents are reaching the distressing stage.
In fact, Nevada is number 2 in rank of violent crimes on the national level. Specifically, Nevada is also number 2 in rank of motor vehicle theft, number 3 in robbery, and number 9 in forcible rape and aggravated assault on the national level. Although the rate of juvenile delinquents has decreased gradually in 2000, it has again increased from 2002 onwards. These figures would signify an immediate attention from the judicial system because of their implications to the whole country at large (Wagner, et al 2012).
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As a matter of fact, the arrest rate made against juveniles in 2008 was considerably higher in Nevada than on the national level regarding four classifications particularly drug use, violent crime, weapons, and property crime. Specifically, the arrest rate in terms of weapon was 159 (Nevada) in comparison to 121 (National level). In terms of drug use, 618 arrests in Nevada while 560 on the national level. When it comes to property crime, the juvenile arrest rate was 1,724 to 1,398, which was significantly higher than on the national level. Lastly, violent crime rate of juveniles was 337 while 306 on the national level in 2008 (Wagner, et al 2012).
In short, the crime condition situation in Nevada is not different from other states based on the data mentioned above. It is also increasing significantly annually regardless of age. With this, it should be emphasized that the said social problem would already require serious and immediate attention. Obviously, there are many factors to consider in dealing and understanding the crime rate.
Apparently, the biological nature of the mentioned behavior is no longer the issue since experts in the field of social sciences and criminology have already established the fact that negative as well as positive behaviors are sociological or environmental in nature. With the rate of juvenile delinquents constantly elevating every year, it is an indication that there is something is wrong with the socialization process of young ones in the society. In other words, juvenile delinquency is a consequence of incorrect socialization or upbringing of children. The responsibility should be carried by the different institutions such as the family, media, church, and the community. From a sociological perspective, criminal behavior is acquired by young ones through negative reinforcements, imitation, or differential association (Akers and Jensen 2003).
The stated sociological assumptions have supported the notion that juvenile delinquency should not be criminalized. The young offenders should be rehabilitated instead of incarcerated since their youthfulness may be a result of poor socialization process coming from the family, mass media or the community. In this context, the laws regulating the criminal acts done by juveniles should not be similar with the adult offenders. It is why many countries in the world apply rehabilitation or counseling from social workers to children or teenagers who have committed crimes especially heinous ones.
However, as the data from the national level and Nevada alone would show, the criminals become younger and younger every year. This may be traced to several factors such as the family upbringing, neighborhood and mass media. For that matter, children seem to be increasing their cognitive abilities in deciphering what is good and bad. This would be accounted on the proliferation of materials in the Internet. The sophistication of the media instruments particularly the Internet has provided images and ideas that are acquired by children and teenagers, which they tend to emulate.
Aside from the family and mass media, the neighborhood seems to contribute to the criminal behavior of teenagers. The existence of gangs in many neighborhoods in the country may have led to the increase crime rate of juveniles. Children or teenagers are being recruited by criminal syndicates to perform criminal acts because they know that young ones would not be prosecuted as adult offenders. In other words, criminal syndicates tend to maximize the softness of the justice system toward the juvenile delinquents (Grant and Huckabee 1998).
For the said reason, it is the position of this paper that policy change should be made in the Nevada law in handling cases of juvenile delinquency. I would strongly support the change in policy of lowering the age of criminal offenders. The justice system should criminalize juvenile delinquency since it has become an extremely serious social problem, especially in Nevada. The laws have become their scapegoats in the commission of crimes instead of preventing them. Consequently, criminal syndicates are abusing the laws about juvenile delinquency. Lowering the age limit would prevent these groups to further utilize children or teenagers in their illegal activities.
Moreover, children and teenagers alike would be forced to rethink their actions if they would see those like them being incarcerated. As mentioned above, children tend to emulate the actions of others. If they would observe in the society through mass media that criminal actions done by children or teenagers would be treated as illegal and penalized by the justice system, they may have avoid imitating such acts. This happens because the real problem is that they see other children or teenagers who have committed criminal acts being pampered by the judicial system. They are being counseled or being taken care of in a rehabilitation institution where their needs are being met.
Of course, the incarceration of juvenile delinquents would be inhumane without the appropriate care of the social workers and other experts. The intervention of these experts should still be applied in the change in policy. But, the main point is to criminalize juvenile delinquents in order to deter others from performing such acts.
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Akers, Ronald L., and Gary F. Jensen, eds. Social Learning Theory and the Explanation of Crime: A Guide for the New Century. Vol. 11. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 2003. Print.
Grant, G. and M. Huckabee. Kids Who Kill: Confronting Our Culture of Violence. Nashville, TN: B& H Publishing Group, 1998.
“Percent of Total Crime Reported to Police.” Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). 2010. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. <http://www.bjs.gov>.
Parry, D. Essential Readings in Juvenile Justice. Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2004.
Wagner, B. et al. “Crime and Delinquency in Nevada.” In The Social Health of Nevada: Leading Indicators and Quality of Life in the Silver State (2012). University of Nevada. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. <http://cdclv.unlv.edu/healthnv_2012/crime.pdf.>