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Juvenile Offenders Justin Meunier Ever since the mid-nineteen eighties, juvenile crime has been on the rise. The number of crimes committed by juveniles has risen dramatically, and it will continue to rise unless some action is taken. Thus, juvenile offenders should be punished more severely to deter other teenagers from committing crimes and for the safety of all citizens. In 1986, approximately 179 000 young Canadians were arrested by officers of the law. By 1992, this number had increased to a blazing222 000. This unbelievable increase may seem normal since the population of Canada has increased since 1986 as well, though surprisingly the adult crime rate has only risen a mere 0.2%. All theses numbers and statistics do not stand out as much as the fact that there are 2.5 times more crimes committed by juveniles than there are crimes committed by adults (”Questions and Answers on Youth and Justice” Hung, Kwing, p. 1 of 6). When you take into consideration that the “juvenile” period consists only of 10-18 year olds, and that the “adult” period consists of everyone over 18, one can quickly realize that this comparison is utterly irrelevant, as well as non-proportional. There are obviously too many crimes committed by youths and more severe punishments would most likely result in a major decrease in juvenile offenses. If the punishments for crimes committed by juveniles were to be more strict, it would eventually cause less teenagers to commit crimes. This theory is in fact correct and statistics prove it. In some foreign countries, crimes such as stealing could result in death or dismemberment. Just recently, a court in the provincial city of Mashhad (Iran) has ordered the amputation of the right hands of two thieves, as well as the fingers of other offenders (”IHRWG calls for stoppage of all cruel punishments in Iran” Iranian Human Rights Working Group, p. 1). The crime rate in such countries, for either juveniles or adults, is coincidentally very low. This does in fact prove that the punishments affect the crimes. Teenagers, being very easily influenced, might think twice before breaking the law if they are aware that a severe punishment awaits them. With this in consideration, it can be realized that a stricter justice system would eventually deter teenagers from committing crimes. In England and Whales, nobody under the age of ten years can be convicted of a federal offense. Teenagers on the other hand, who are delt with by a Juvenile Court, are most likely to be fined and/or obligated to attend a variety of institutions an alternative to being sent to prison. With such open laws, it is bizarre that juvenile crimes be just as frequent in stricter countries such as Canada and the USA. This just goes to show that geographical location does affect the occurrence of juvenile crimes (”The Matthew Project” p.1). A few years back, a tragedy took place in England. Two ten year old boys killed a baby by placing him on nearby railroad tracks. Nothing could be done to theses underage killers, due to the loose laws. The two boys were released. What kind of an example does this give other underage children when they see kids getting away with murder? Obviously not a good one. When young children learn that they can get away with acts of cruelty such as murder, there is no telling what they might do. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reveals that between 1984 and 1994, homicides committed by youths under the age of 18 more than doubled. The cause of this sudden rise in juvenile offenses remains unknown, but the U.S. Department of Justice believes that alcohol and drugs play a major role in the lives of teenagers in our day of age. If punishments were made more severe, the use of illegal drugs and alcohol among the juvenile population who commit crimes would also decrease, as shown proven in a 1995 Annual Report on Drug’s and Alcohol published by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Colombia University. Between 1985 and 1994, the number of juveniles arrested for dealing or possessing illegal drugs rose 66%. In fact, nearly half of juvenile offenders in long-term institutions admit being high on drugs or alcohol at the time of their offense: 56% of drug dealers, 51% of robbers, 43% of murderers and 34% of rapists. Beyond this, more than 80% of youth criminals have used illegal drugs, and the percentage of arrested or detained juveniles who tested positive for drugs increased by a third from 1992 to 1993. This sudden availability of drugs among teenagers obviously has a negative effect on their actions. By keeping juvenile drug dealers in custody, it’s result would be less drug availability to other youths. This in itself would eventually cause less crimes (”1995 Annual Report: Drugs and Alcohol” The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, p. 1)

With the number of violent crimes rising rapidly, it is understandable that citizens be more concerned of their safety and well-being. Nobody would enjoy being in contact with a homicidal teenager, just recently released due to the holes in the justice system. The Youth Court Survey has proven that nearly half (46%) of young offenders recidivate – meaning they are likely to break the law in the future (”White Paper Report”, Koch Crime Institute, p.5 of 6). Who can blame juveniles for committing serious crimes when they get away for it with a simple fine and few days in custody? The current maximum penalty for first-degree murder is six years of custody, four years for second-degree. If more severe penalties were to be set, juveniles who have committed violent offenses would be held in prison, kept away from the rest of civilization, resulting in less crimes in the nearby future. Less violent offenders on the streets means less violent offenses. This seems obvious, yet 20 000 youths are arrested every year charged with violent crimes, ranging from assault to first degree murder (”Questions and Answers on Youth and Justice” Hung, Kwing, p. 1 of 6). The Standardization of Juvenile Offender Program reveals that professionals, as well as the public, have not been willing to give up on the belief that youth offenders can be rehabilitated. In fact, it has been proven that rehabilitation and community-based programs have had a positive influence on the future course of juveniles in trouble, especially first-time offenders. If every first-time offender, no matter what the crime, was forced by law to fulfill a certain number of hours of community service, surely it would influence the delinquent to think twice before going against the law further on in life (”White Paper Report”, Koch Crime Institute, p. 1 of 3). With all this proof, some people still believe that more severe penalties, such as prison, could ruin the child’s life. For example, if the juvenile who commits a crime truly regrets doing so, he will still be sentenced to a severe punishment. Unfortunately, there is no room for sympathy when it comes to the law. If the court system were to begin sentencing juveniles, as well as adults, according to the sympathy felt for the sentenced individual, the madness would never end. That is why everyone is sentenced equally, depending on facts and evidence. If juvenile delinquents were punished more severely an example would be made of their actions. Others would know exactly what not to do as they would see their peers suffering. For example, if one had to be incarcerated for two weeks for something as simple as stealing a chocolate bar, then others would think twice before committing an insignificant crime such as this one. Ideally the number of offenders will plummet and society will therefore be a safer place. Unfortunately, using imprisoned teenagers as role-models cannot be as effective as using other teenagers who don’t get in trouble at all. It is safe to conclude that juvenile offenders should be punished more severely to deter other teenagers from committing crimes and for the safety of all citizens. By modifying the “Young Offenders Act” we see a possible solution to the problem. Stronger laws would cause less crimes, making society a better place. 1 369 Words Bibliography “It’s our kids who are at stake”, 1995 Annual Report: Drugs and Alcohol. Columbia University: The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 1996. available: http://www.casacolumbia.org/about/annual/nfar_kid6.htm “The Standardization of Juvenile Offender Program”, Koch Crime Institute: White Paper Report, 1998. available: http://www.kci.org/publication/white_paper/program_eval /default.htm “You, your child and the law”, The Matthew Project, 1998. available: http://www.gurney.co.uk/watton/social/ matthew/law.htm “Questions and answers on youth and justice”, Kwing Hung and Stan Lipinski, 1998. available: cdr/forum/e07/e071b.htm

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