Last week, it was in the news that a teenager had committed murder. This is a repeat of the murder of 39-year-old Angela Wrightson, who was killed by two teenagers, aged 13 and 14. This was worsened by their decision to share their brutality with friends over Snapchat, the social media platform. This might be the most well-known case of juvenile crime, but there are a plethora of crimes where this comes from.
In most cases, juvenile cases aren’t dealt with the same level of jurisdiction as an adult’s case would receive. In fact, only 3% of juvenile cases are serious enough to reach the Crown Court. This is because most juvenile crime is reported as stealing or minor acts of violence. For matters like these, prosecuting a teenager by the same standards as an adult is unlikely to be the solution. These matters are ‘crimes of innocence’: an act that is illegal, but is committed because of peer-pressure and ‘enhancing’ your appearance (the notion of vandalising being done to ‘look cool’ being a prominent example).
Critics of juvenile delinquency would have a problem with the way serious crimes are dealt with when committed by a teenager. Teenagers have been known to get away with crimes like murder and rape fairly leniently when compared to adults. Teens are more likely to be counselled and put in counselling programs, instead of facing a trial and having a prison sentence. Some would argue that isn’t fair, because a teenager will know when they are committing such a heinous crime. Unless proven otherwise, there is no reason why the child shouldn’t be charged criminally in the same way an adult will be.
However, there’s a slight problem with charging juveniles the same way as adults. The primary issue resolves around funding these new incarcerations. On average, a teenager’s conviction costs the state more, because of the increased levels of social help that the teen gets, in the form of child psychologists and additional staff. Secondarily, the receptive mind of a teenager is not one that should be put in a detrimental place like prison, where other adult criminals might act as a role-model influence. Statistics show that a significant amount of young offenders re-offend already, despite not getting jail time. If teenagers get prison treatment, this number will surely increase further, breeding criminals and criminal behaviour.
Overall, it’s hard to look at the situation currently, and find faults with it. Treating teenagers differently to adults is the right decision. While teenagers should perhaps be punished more harshly for heinous crimes like rape and murder, the risks, potential costs to change the current system, and the adults already in prisons remain concerning. As such, the current system, while flawed, remains better than any alternative.