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Are Changes Required In Regards To Juvenile Offenses?

States like California have very harsh laws when it comes to juvenile offenders. As a result of these laws, many young offenders have ended up serving harsh and long prison sentences, which would not have been required had the law been simpler. These harsh penalties were imposed on offenders as part of a wave of harsh new laws that were passed nationwide, with the aim to strike back against an anticipated wave of juvenile “superpredators,” also known as remorseless kid criminals.

One such incident was of Alonza Thomas, who committed an armed robbery at the age of 15 years, in the year 2000. This was shortly after the harsh juvenile laws were put in place. As a result of the laws, Thomas ended up serving 13 years in an adult prison, instead of being tried as a juvenile. Although no one was harmed in the armed robbery, Thomas would have been tried as an adult and sentenced to face hard time under Proposition 21.

In the year 1997, juvenile arrest rates peaked, before they started dropping in the years after. However, this peak in juvenile arrests soon led to the filling up of prisons, including adult prisons, with kids, putting a strain on the state budgets. The issue also raised serious human rights concerns and things started to gradually change. In recent years, states have now begun considering new approaches to juvenile offenders. A new research shows that if a young person is incarcerated, it actually leads to an increase in the chances of the person to commit another crime.

Amid all these developments, both state and federal courts decided to object harsh sentencing for young people. After the juvenile crime rate peaked in 1997, but the juvenile arrest rate dropped 48% by the year 2011. Starting in 2004, the Supreme Court stepped in and reshaped the juvenile justice landscape. The first step taken was to abolish capital punishment for crimes committed by juveniles. In 2010, the court decided that states cannot impose mandatory life sentences on juveniles convicted of crimes, apart from homicide. In 2012, court expanded on this ruling, declaring mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of any crime to be unconstitutional.

Several studies and researches have been carried out by juvenile law professors and other experts to shed light on the juvenile justice system. According to Barry Feld, “Kids are not adults. Children are different.” Courts have also made decisions based on research showing that adolescent brains aren’t fully developed. That is particularly true when it comes to emotion and decision-making.

Today, many states have set up task forces to implement reforms, including programs to keep young offenders in their own communities rather than sending them to upstate facilities. By keeping them in their own communities, it allows them to focus on issues like their education and mental health. Still, a lot of changes are needed in the juvenile justice system, which dates as far back as the 19th century and has undergone a series of reforms over time.

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