This is a poem from a teenage boy, who is a convicted felon. He wishes to remain anonymous
One Last Chance
All I need is one last chance
But will I get it?
Only the judge knows.
In the past, I’ve said I’m going to change
with no intention in my heart.
I say I want to stay sober
Yet all I want is to get high.
Everytime I get out
I run straight to the block
thinking they can help me manage my life
But all they do is corrupt me with the drugs
that make me a slave
So every day, I pray to my God
For just one last chance
to get out of the game.
Should adolescents be tried as adults?
I will be exploring how an adolescent thinks, vs. how an adult thinks. I will then explore the American justice system, and investigate if they take into consideration the science behind the results.
The science behind the brain
Neuroscientists have given a name to the process of the brain maturing, it is called neuromaturation. Our brain is made up of both grey matter and white matter. Grey matter is organized by the nerve cell bodies, and by most of the dendrites. Grey matter, has no myelin sheath around it. Grey matter is in control of our senses and motor regulation of the muscles. Grey matter is mostly matured between the ages of 11 and 12. It is the white matter that is a different story. White matter, as opposed to grey matter, has a myelin sheath. White matter is not matured until we are in our twenties. In a nutshell, grey matter does the processing and storage of information, while white matter forms the connections. So, metaphorically speaking, grey matter writes the email, and white matter delivers it.
So, why does white matter, matter?
White matter matters because it connects everything together. What does it matter if your mind is able to conduct good science based on hypothetical reasoning, if that reasoning cannot be delivered properly? So in essence, the different parts of the brain, are not able to communicate with one another as efficiently as an adult.
Do not forget about the frontal lobe
The frontal lobe, the last in line to get the myelin connections, is the last part of the processing. This is crucial because of what the frontal association does. It is responsible for attention, impulses, and motivation. I bold impulse because that is something that can really get someone into trouble.
So, what does this all mean?
It means that adolescents cannot process at the same degree that an adult does. Without a strong mind connection, the adolescent is not able to look at the whole picture when decisions are being made. They are not able to understand the long term consequences of what they are doing, and the potential risks of doing such behaviors might lead to. We must also understand that their coping mechanisms are not as good as a mature adult either. So that means they are much easier to influence and persuade.
Miller v. Alabama
Things are changing, fortunately. The United States Supreme Court, issued a ruling on June 25, 2012 stating that young adolescents cannot be prosecuted as if they were adults. The court also realized that children have tremendous potential for change, and that they need extra safety and kindness while in the criminal justice system.
Unfortunately, many people still believe children should be punished as adults. I have always been under the impression, if children are doing bad things, then bad things are happening to them. And what is the help in punishing someone who needs love and attention?
I do have faith in the system, Miller v. Alabama is a strong step in the right direction. I believe America has a very flawed criminal justice system, not just for the children, but for the adults as well. But that is another paper for another time.
Capuzzi, D. & Stauffer, M. (2016). Human Growth and Development Across the Lifespan: Application for Counselors. New Jersey: Wiley
Miller v. Alabama: EJI. Retrieved from http://eji.org/miller-v-alabama
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