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Whats All the Fuss

About?
Enjoli Wasden
Criminal Justice 1010
After doing some research, I vigorously contemplated what I wanted to learn in regards to the

criminal justice system. I came up with several questions and learned a few things that I hadnt

even thought of before. The research question I came up with, and wanted to explore further was,

is the criminal justice system failing juveniles by charging them as adults for the crimes they

commit?

In discussions of juvenile justice, one controversial issue has been sentencing. One the one hand,

some people argue that if you do the crime you pay the time. On the other hand, people

contend that theyre just children. Others even maintain that they should have no chances. My

own view is that there needs to be some limit. I worked in a juvenile treatment center that was

much like a jail, and saw many things that make this debate worthwhile to finding more answers.

While most of us think that when a child commits a murder, steals, or runs away that there must

be something terribly wrong and unfixable with this child. But is that always the case? We as a

society seem to think that these kids cannot be rehabilitated. And while that may be true for some

of them, what are we doing for the ones when thats not the case? Our society seems to not care

about these kids that arent violent offenders. The mentality seems to be out of sight out of mind.

Continuing, I watched a TEDx talk performed by Adam Foss called A Prosecutors Vision for a

Better Justice System, this talk was about why he thinks that the criminal justice system needs

to be reformed when it comes to juveniles. This talk, is what really got me thinking about

children in the system and changed how I thought about them as well. I used to think that if a

child committed a crime that they should pay for it. However, I did not know what that payment

would be, and how damaging it actually was. Adam, who has many years of experience decided

to make a difference and be unlike all other prosecutors. Prosecutors, as we learned in our book,
have the ability to make or break someones life. This is very scary to me, especially when it

comes to the thought of children. Adam states, when we talk about criminal justice reform we

as a society focus on three things, we complain, we tweet, we protest about the police, about

sentencing laws, about prison we rarely, if ever talk about the prosecutor (0:05:28-0:05:44). In

other words, the way we see to do things is by complaining and bashing, but not actually taking a

stand for whats right. This, in turn, does nothing to help change the problems within the juvenile

justice system.

Furthermore, Adam goes on to say that prosecutors are untrained to provide justice. He says this

is from a lack of training on what justice really is. Do any of us really know what justice is?

Sometimes I think that its an eye for an eye type of deal that happens more often than not.

From my experience in the treatment center I worked for I can attest to the fact that almost all of

the individuals there, myself included were untrained in how to help these youth. We were

trained on how to restrain them if they became violent, which happened quite often. This, I think

could be an intervention, or a place to invest money to help rehabilitate the youth, rather than a

place for them to stay. While these youth had several programs that helped them here, the

majority of their days were spent with untrained staff. There were youth that would come to this

particular treatment center that had been found guilty of murder, sexual abuse, drug use, and

more minor crimes.

In my experience, I felt that the one who had committed murder while a child, was not suited for

the treatment center. This particular child would constantly make threats and talk about killing

again. He did not care about his rehabilitation plan. These types of kids in my opinion are ones

that should get what they deserve, especially when help is being offered and they have a

supportive family like he had.


I started off working on the sex offender unit at this treatment center. At first I was very

stereotypical and judgmental, like most people. I thought that these kids were just the scum of

the earth and that they deserved the worst kind of punishment ever. Just as many people feel

about them today. Once I got to work with them I realized that yes, some have committed serious

crimes and could care less, but I saw kids. Kids that needed love, stability and structure. This is

what the staff could provide them. But they needed more than that in my opinion. They needed

more intervention, more time with their therapists, more structure, and importantly more

knowledgeable staff.

Another TEDx talk I watched was called Why are We Trying Kids as Adults? performed by

Michele Deitch. Her talk is on why we need to change laws that try children as adults and put

them into the prison and jail populations. Michele states, why cant we as a society set a

standard that we should treat these children the way we would want our own child treated if he or

she got into trouble(0:10:50-0:10:59). Basically, the way that children are treated in the prison

system is abusive and neglectful, but at least it eases societies mind. I found some of her points

interesting. I do have to agree with her on the fact that I do not think that children should be tried

as adults and put directly into the adult population. However, I am of two minds about Micheles

claim that judges need to be able to consider mitigating factors for sentencing. On the one hand I

agree that they should not go to adult prison. On the other hand, Im not sure if these factors will

change the rate of re-offending for these individuals.

I think that the main thing both of these speakers are trying to get at is that if you take a majority

of the nonviolent offenders and help them early on that the chance of them committing more

crimes will go down. Whereas, if you put them straight into the criminal justice system they are

going to continue committing crimes because now they are labeled a criminal and it makes their
lives that much more difficult. I agree with several of their points and do think that we as a

society should invest more of the money early on rather than later because if we dont in the end

it just ends up costing us even more as taxpayers. I know that from my experience I would have

greatly benefited from more training when working with these youth.

This leads me into another question. Is sentencing a child to an adult prison cruel and unusual?

Reading our text book, I noticed some of the status offenses for children, our book states

smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, being truant, disobeying teachers, running away from

home, violating curfew, participating in sexual activity and using profane language (504), these

offenses are ones that are deemed punishable by law as an adult. In other words, typical teenage

acts can land you in an adult prison system.

Now, when I see these offenses I am guilty of all of them. Luckily, I wasnt caught. To me, it is

unfathomable that for these minor offenses a child could be placed in adult jail. Sometimes, I

think we fail to see that they are just children and that we committed many of the same offenses

that they did, and I am guaranteeing that most of us do not think we should have gone to jail or

prison for these offenses. I think that this is cruel and unusual punishment. I also think this is a

failure of the criminal justice system. Also from reading the book we find that the death penalty

is not even cruel. Why is it this way? Is it mainly a social push for these things? From my

perspective with working with the youth, a majority of them that were in there could have very

well been in an adult system. I still do not think that being in this center was the best

rehabilitative measure that could be taken for these youth, but I definitely think that it was better

than them being locked away with adults.

Lets get down to the real issues of why this is happening in the first place. A lack of education,

unsupportive parents, parents that are criminals, no help, and a justice system that is fast to
punish and label the wrong doer. If we as a society would invest our money into these youth I

think that there would be a much lower crime rate and less people behind bars sucking a lot more

tax money than is necessary. I think that what Adam Foss mentions in his video about coming

out of law school being a prosecutor and not knowing what justice is, is a major fault in our

system today. There needs to be reforms on the education of our lawyers that can help them

better serve the clients and think of better ways to handle to issue than jail.

From taking this criminal justice class, I have learned that the justice system is set up to account

for little errors as possible and to be fast. I think that this is a major reason why there have not

been changes made yet to the juvenile system. Essentially, the justice system seems like a bunch

of paper pushers that just stick to what theyre supposed to do. This type of system leaves no

regard for the well-being of the individual that it is supposed to care for and give fair treatment

to.

Continuing, to have this problem eliminated and to do so that requires us as a society to do

something about it. But, in our society we dont because if it is not directly affecting us we dont

care about it. This is another major problem. Then when it does affect us we just complain and

do nothing. We need to have a better education system set in place for our young people so they

can see these problems and do something other than complain.

In addition, while working at the youth center, I noticed that a lot of them strived to do better and

wanted to get out of there as fast as they could. They would attend their classes all their sessions

and were respectful to staff. I feel that these kids did not belong in a jail or prison that they had

just made some mistakes because they did not want to be in foster care. A lot of them hated foster

care and would do things to get into a treatment facility.


Throughout my essay I have talked about and given many examples of the oppression and

mistreatment of juveniles. I have also talked about others points of view on how they think it is

best to reform the criminal justice system. I have also talked about our book and some shocking

things from that. This debate over the children being tried as adults, Im sure will continue to last

for a long time. This debate has been going on, and is why the juvenile justice system was

formed in the first place. Somewhere along the line we got a skewed view and decided that all of

these kids silly games should and could cost them their lives.

I also think that on top of safer communities that investing our money into intervention much

sooner would cause for a wealthier society overall. If we intervened much more rapidly, a lot of

these kids would redirect and be able to go to college and become successful adults. Which is all

we hope for all of our children to be one day.

Although juvenile justice may seem of concern to only a small group of people that it effects, it

should in fact concern anyone who cares about a safer society. These findings have important

implications for the broader domain of tax dollars. Society complains about paying for people to

sit in jail and eat when the money could be invested earlier on to help prevent that spending. I

agree with Foss that I would rather invest my tax dollars sooner than later and live within safer

communities. For my children and future generations to come.


Works Cited

Gaines, Larry K., and Roger Leroy Miller. CJ 1010 Criminal Justice Salt Lake Community

College. 7th ed. Ohio: Cengage Learning, 2013. Print.

TEDtalksDirector. YouTube. YouTube, 12 Apr. 2016. Web. 26 Apr. 2017.

TEDxTalks. YouTube. YouTube, 19 Dec. 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.