Hope for a Second Chance

I remember when I got into a fight in third grade. I was a very opinionated, strong-willed kid, and on the playground one day I became enraged at a boy for disagreeing with me. At the time, I decided beating down the opposition was the best way to handle the situation. Now that I am older, I realize how ridiculous that was. But in third grade, I didn’t know any better. I was punished by my teacher, received the consequences from which I learned my lesson, and moved on to the other wonders of the third grade. But what if I were to be punished for the rest of my life for what I later understood as wrong and regretted doing? That is unjust and unfair.

Some people believe that children should be tried as adults when prosecuted for certain serious crimes. Others feel that children should be tried as minors because they are not yet adults, and therefore, they should be treated differently. This is an important debate because how we choose to punish juveniles affects both our current and future society. Kids all over the United States are being tried differently in court, and it is not fair to judge and punish them inconsistently for the same crime. I believe that, without exception, children under 18 should be tried as minors.

Our society has set 18 as the age of adulthood. Eighteen is when a person is expected to know right from wrong and understand his or her responsibilities in the community. The responsibility to vote, sign contracts, make out wills, sign leases, and decide on medical treatment are not acquired until the age of 18. By 18, a person has experienced enough to know what he should and should not do. So why are those under 18 being tried as adults? A person under 18 is a child and should be treated as such by the courts.

When juveniles receive a life sentence in adult prison, they never get a second chance. When children commit crimes and are punished properly, they should learn that their action was wrong and not to do it again. Juvenile detention helps show kids their mistakes and gives them a second chance, while prison does nothing to help a child. Adults have already had their chance; they should know the difference between right and wrong by the time they cross into adulthood; therefore they deserve an adult sentence.

Young brains are not fully developed, so humans do not understand the full consequences of their actions until about the age of 23. Kids have not lived through the learning experiences necessary for maturity. Children make mistakes, and as they grow, they learn from them. Until they mature, they do not have a full understanding of the consequences of their actions. For example, if a 10-year-old is angry with his father and points a gun at him, he does not fully comprehend that by pulling the trigger he will never seen his dad again.

In prison, children are “abused and come out more dangerous and damaged than when they went in,” according to newspaper columnist Mike Hendricks. This is not what we want for our society. We should be trying our best to reform children while they are young by sending them to juvenile detention and rehabilitation. We should not be throwing their lives away in prison and then putting them back onto the streets even worse than before.

When kids are put in adult prison, they do not get the help and attention they need to grow into moral adults and good citizens. The juvenile justice ­system is designed to help find the problem and fix it so that a child can go back into the world with a second chance at making the right decisions. In prison, there is no help, only hurt.

Children commit crimes for a reason. Maybe they are angry or want attention from their family. Committing a crime is the only option they see. In the juvenile system they can learn other ways to express themselves. Then they can return to society with a new chance at life.

Some people believe that kids are no different from adults when it comes to knowing right from wrong. But people grow up in different types of households. If parents do not teach a child morals then how can he be expected to know them? People cannot blame the child for bad parenting. The juvenile system teaches children what they should have learned at home.

Some may argue that if these juvenile delinquents get a second chance, they will just commit other crimes. Our juvenile system has been proven to work. One inspiring story is that of Bob Beamon. As a youth, he was involved in assaults, truancy, running away from home, gang violence, theft, fighting, and skipping school, according to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS). Bob’s life was hard; he “never knew his biological father or mother … [his stepfather] drank a lot; beat his wife, his mother, and Bob,” according to NCJRS. Bob obviously had no parental guidance or role models. He could have been sentenced to prison for his crimes. Instead, a kind judge sent Bob to a school in New York that helped juvenile delinquents, and it was the turning point of his life. “It was a place where he had time to learn that there was more to life than trouble … that there was a different way to live and behave,” according to NCJRS. Now Bob is an Olympic athlete, president of Bob Beamon Communications Inc., and director of athletic development at Florida Atlantic University.

If Bob Beamon, who did so many bad things as a youth, could be reformed in a juvenile school and become such a productive member of society, then there is no doubt other children can do the same if given a second chance to be a better person.

If we don’t change the way juveniles are dealt with, the crime rate will only increase. Children who are sent to prison end up harming our society even more. If instead we reform these children into law-abiding citizens, not only will our prisons be less crowded but they will become positive contributors to our society.

The way we choose to punish juveniles affects everyone. Those who commit a crime under the age of 18 should be sent to rehab or juvenile detention so they can have a second chance at life.