The Importance of Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility
Raising the age for criminal responsibility of juveniles is an issue on the front lines of criminal justice reform. Raise the age bills have been passed at some point in almost all 50 states and allow for juveniles to be treated as juveniles unless they have committed certain violent offenses, such as murder, rape and armed robbery. In those instances of serious crimes like murder, rape and armed robbery, the offender can still be tried in adult courts due to the severity of these crimes. Giving juveniles who commit crime the chance to go into the juvenile system increases the chances of successful rehabilitation by providing them counselors, classes and community service opportunities to teach them how to be productive members of society.
The CDC states that including 17-year-olds in the juvenile system reduces recidivism by 34%. Not only does rehabilitating juveniles increase public safety, but it also saves taxpayers money and increases economic productivity. In Wisconsin, a study has found there is an estimated $5.8 million saved for every 1,000 youths that are put into the juvenile system instead of the adult system. These savings can be seen in reduced law enforcement costs, court costs and a reduction in the number of crimes committed. North Carolina has recently passed legislation on raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18. They found 96.7% of the state’s convictions of 16 and 17-year-olds in 2016 were for nonviolent misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies.
When a 16 or 17-year-old is put into the adult prison system, their opportunities for gainful employment, education and housing diminish greatly and create barriers that are difficult to overcome. Not only does raising the age allow for juveniles to keep opportunities for employment, education and housing, but it also keeps them safe. Raising the age keeps juveniles away from negative influences, such as violent adult inmates. In addition, juveniles put into adult facilities are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than those youths that are in juvenile facilities. The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was designed to keep juveniles in adult facilities separate from inmates who are adults so they are not taken advantage of or abused. This act also helps sheriffs from having to make room for extra juvenile inmates while saving large amounts of money in the process.
Juveniles who do not commit violent crimes should not be sent to adult jails or prisons when they are still under the legal age to vote or buy lottery tickets. Instead, they should be sent to detention facilities designed for juveniles to rehabilitate them and allow them to become productive members in their community.