Teenager: noun, a person between the ages of 13 and 19; adolescent. We are all familiar with this definition seeing that a majority of us fall into that category. We are teenagers. We still live at home with our parents or guardians, we do chores, we have to follow rules, we have curfew, we can’t do whatever we want, and most importantly, we ARE NOT adults. So why is it OK for us to be charged as one?
Since youth crimes drastically increased in the 80s and 90s, courts have been charging them as adults meaning a longer sentence than a juvenile is supposed to receive. It’s called juvenile “waiver” where a juvenile court judge passes the case to adult court in order to deny the teen the privileges of being young. In most states, the teen has to be around 17 years old for this to happen, but in some states the age is as low as 13. Could you imagine not only yourself, but a younger sibling doing 20 years for getting caught up in a burglary charge?
In 2008, the United States was recorded to have at least 2,380 people serving life sentences for crimes they committed under the age of 18. In 2009 the number increased to 2,570. The international human rights law states that any person under 18 cannot be given a life sentence, which was obviously violated multiple times. What bothers me the most is that more than half (59 percent) of the juveniles sentenced to life without parole were first-time offenders with no previous record. I strongly believe in second chances and a life sentence for someone who can’t even vote yet is ridiculous, but life without parole might as well be the death penalty.
On January 27, 1997 at Conniston Middle School in West Palm Beach, Tronneal Mangum was 14 when he brought a gun to school and shot another student to death. The victim, John Kamel was also 14 and had been arguing with him over a wristwatch. Tronneal was a troubled kid without many friends while John was very popular and well liked. According to other students, the two of them were always fighting, but Daniel Troya, a classmate, stated that Tronneal brought it thinking it was just a fake. Regardless, Tronneal Magnum was tried as an adult, convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of getting out.
A 14 year old who commits murder will get a maximum of five years if handled as a juvenile. Don’t get me wrong, murder is murder, but having five years of your life taken away as a young teen oppose to being 25 (when brains are fully developed) will feel like a lifetime. We do know right from wrong, but it’s deeper than that. Young minds are heavily influenced from peer pressure, their environment, and even what’s seen on TV. We’ve learned over and over what not to do such as drugs, drinking, and fighting, but when faced with it, we forget all about it. As psychologist Michael Bradley put it, we are missing the “neurologic brakes” adults have.
We are teenagers. We make a lot of mistakes, but if given the chance we can learn from them whether it be a crime or not. We’re still growing and trying to figure out who we are in this world. It’s not easy and things that our parents or grandparents had to deal with at a later stage in their life, we have to deal with them today. There is no excuse for the youth taking someone’s life, participating in a robbery, or any other crime, but there has to be a level of understanding. Life without parole for a juvenile is pushing the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. A line has to be drawn.
Rea Armstrong is a senior at Schenectady High School