The destruction of immigrant families, the degradation of women, the devastation of the environment: these only begin the tally of issues debated by students. One system that has received a lot of recent attention in the media is the criminal justice system.
The name has become a mockery – a system that set out to uphold the ideals of society has become as morally perilous as the criminals it prosecutes.
One instance of this is seen in the system’s treatment of juveniles. There are discrepancies in the way the courts describe how and when children ought to be tried in court, and how they actually are.
The supreme court recognized that the immature brains of children are not as equipped for impulse control as an adult brain is, and that the defendant is therefore “categorically less culpable than the average criminal,” outlawing capital punishment for minors as a consequence.
However, despite this realization that children cannot be held to the same standards as adults, the only sentencing behavior to change was capital punishment; many of the other convictions treating juveniles as adults have persisted.
Encouraged by congressional incentives, states have been increasing the ease with which minors can be tried as adults. And although governmental policies often argue that trying minors as adults is done for the safety of the child or society, statistics throw an abhorrent perspective on the matter: 87.6% of the juveniles tried as adults are minorities.
The supposed interest in the welfare of both the juvenile and society are consequently being used to pervade the justice system with racial injustice. Other inequalities are also targeted by the sentencing of juvenile defendants as adults. Both in the juvenile and adult justice systems, mental illness is misunderstood and mistreated.
An angry or destructive outburst from children recovering from past trauma or abuse is enough to land them in detention, resulting in a “sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline” for many females. In some states, even minor offenses like skipping school due to anxiety is enough to warrant judicial action.
But whatever mental struggles a minor goes to jail with, those can be compounded or exacerbated while in the system. The practice of solitary confinement is so destructive to mental health, humanitarians worldwide vie for its prohibition worldwide.
Although some courts have conceded, the implementations of such bans are spotty at best. New York, for instance, has outlawed solitary confinement for sentenced juveniles. However, its use continues in some of those same systems for juveniles prior to conviction.
Some minors have been held in solitary confinement for four months. The mental stress such a situation puts on a child is unimaginable and abominable.
This article has barely begun to outline the inequity faced by juveniles in the justice system. It would take an encyclopedia to enumerate all the injustices faced by children. But perhaps a better question than what all of the injustices are would be what it would take to address them.
The list of opportunities to support children through the trauma of this society is lengthy, but the organizations struggle with a lack of resources, namely, a lack of volunteers.
The Volunteer Center recruits tirelessly to create a stronger workforce, but the impact that agencies such as Court Appointed Special Advocates, LARY Buddies, and VITAL can make is still limited by the number of people devoted to making change happen.
Lawrentians vocalize their ideals profusely, lamenting the injustices in society. But despite all the noise, classes, athletics, recreational and social activities have remained a priority. It is time for students to live in such a way that their efforts reflect their opinions.