Category: Goals, Plans, Hopes
I think that these newer findings that the brain is not fully developed in adolescents don't change anything. Everyone has always known that adolescents are less mature. The fact that we can now point out exactly what areas of the brain are later developing only proves that government has been right to treat juvenile delinquents more gently. Maintenance of the status quo is also indicated by the inverse statement. These areas of the brain are partially developed. They know right from wrong. They make many correct decisions. They shouldn't be let off the hook, either.
Having a sentence that is less severe than an adult sentence is not the same as letting them off the hook. This will be their first time in detention. Away from their family and friends. Punished because of what they have done. They're not there laughing it up because they didn't get an adult sentence. I'm sure it is the biggest life crisis they have ever faced. In addition to punishments that are less severe than adults, I think that change is much more likely in the juvenile. They absolutely need rehabilitation, community service, counseling, vocational preparation, therapy, education and GED work, etc. While I think calling them first time offenders is wrong (it's the first time they were caught and successfully prosecuted), I also think that they need to know that there is hope that they can change and choose a better life. We need more of this, both for adolescents and adult "first time offenders." While the rehabilitative aspect is very important, I don't agree with removal of the normal detention punishment. It needs to remain.
Those with a history of offenses are a different issue. Those that are a danger to society fully deserve every year they get. Seeing a child rapist in the news a while ago that was a repeat offender that had been let go made me sick. I'm all for the death penalty for those that deserve it, and prison till death for those that don't. I would hope that the life in prison people would have been through the whole rehabilitative gamut and, having repeated their crimes, I don't think any more money should be spent on them.
Trying to determine all the factors that made the juvenile do what he did, and reducing his punishment according to their number and severity is impossible. You can take any juvenile, or criminal for that matter, and write a laundry list of "causes" for what he or she did. If every criminal has the list, and you think that they should all get reduced sentences because of it, the end result is an across the board shortening of sentences. That doesn't fix anything. Whether they were raised in bad neighborhoods, or had abusive parents, or were addicted to drugs, or whatever, there will always be something.
I also think that having reduced sentences for major offenses and normal sentences for minor offenses is indefensible. You can't be fully responsible for theft and less responsible for murder. It is also impossible to judge how mature a teen was, to affect choice of consequence for the crime. It may be possible to develop a fairly good test to judge this, but it wouldn't be possible to prevent a knowing youth from throwing the score. Actual brain activity scans would also not work for this, as many adult criminals may scan as teens, and my understanding is that the person being scanned is given things to think about while the scan is done to get the correct areas to light up. Again, willing cooperation is needed.
People that are in prison need to work, in my opinion. The government is paying about 50,000 a year for each one. I think they should have at least several options, but I think they need to work. Working can help a person respect themselves. It can keep them out of trouble. It can help them learn the habit of doing honest work for money. It can give them knowledge of a vocation, so they'll have an option when they get out. It would help defray the cost of their confinement. It could give them a little bit of money when they get out so they don't end up sleeping on the streets, and so they have a full stomach as they look for a job when they leave.
I think the purposes of prison need to be looked at more closely. I think that 20 years is not really a greater punishment than 10 years in prison. Once you're beyond the first several years, social ties become less significant. If the person needs to be in prison for the rest of their life, then let's put them in prison for the rest of their life. If we hope to rehabilitate them, I think many years of prison is going to have the opposite effect. They need to be punished, and I think a significant amount of solitary time is good for several reasons. It provides time to think and choose a better course. It reduces the amount of time socializing with other prisoners, and reduces the spread of criminal ideas and prison gangs. If any change is to happen, it won't take 20 years to do it. Do it fast and get them back out into the real world. For prisoners' mental health, the reduction in social time with other prisoners needs to be balanced with an increase in time doing the full range of rehabilitative activities. Let's get them back on the streets with all the tools they need for a successful life.