Balancing Accountability and Rehabilitation in the Criminal Justice System Argumentative Essay

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Pages: 8

Assignment Question

answer the prompt: Should juveniles who commit felonies such as rape or robbery be treated as adults?



The question of whether juveniles who commit felonies such as rape or robbery should be treated as adults is a complex and contentious issue that has generated significant debate in recent years. As society grapples with evolving notions of justice and rehabilitation, it is crucial to examine the current perspectives on this matter. This essay explores the arguments for and against treating juveniles who commit heinous crimes as adults, drawing upon contemporary research and legal developments to shed light on the complexities of this issue.

The Case for Treating Juveniles as Adults

Deterrence and Accountability

One argument in favor of treating juveniles who commit felonies as adults is the belief that it serves as a deterrent to crime. Research conducted by Martin and Snyder (2020) suggests that the threat of adult sentencing can deter some juveniles from engaging in serious criminal acts. When young offenders understand the potential consequences of their actions, it may discourage them from committing such crimes in the first place. Furthermore, proponents argue that holding juveniles accountable as adults sends a clear message that society takes these offenses seriously, emphasizing the importance of personal responsibility (Smith, 2021).

Public Safety

Another argument centers on public safety. Advocates contend that some juveniles who commit violent felonies pose a significant risk to society and may continue to do so if they are treated within the juvenile justice system. In cases of rape or robbery, the potential for recidivism is a serious concern. A study by Becker et al. (2022) found that young offenders who commit serious violent crimes are more likely to reoffend if they are not subjected to the harsher penalties associated with adult sentencing.

The Case Against Treating Juveniles as Adults

Developmental Considerations

On the opposing side, critics argue that juveniles should not be treated as adults due to their ongoing cognitive and emotional development. The American Psychological Association (APA) highlights that the adolescent brain is still evolving, particularly in areas related to impulse control, decision-making, and risk assessment (APA, 2019). This raises questions about the fairness and effectiveness of applying adult penalties to individuals who may not fully grasp the consequences of their actions.


Another crucial consideration is the principle of rehabilitation. The juvenile justice system is designed with the goal of reforming young offenders and reintegrating them into society as productive citizens. Advocates for this approach argue that treating juveniles as adults often results in harsher sentences that can hinder their chances of rehabilitation. Recent studies by Johnson (2021) have shown that juvenile offenders who receive rehabilitative services are less likely to reoffend, highlighting the potential benefits of a more rehabilitative approach.

Recent Legal Developments

In recent years, there has been a notable shift towards reforming the treatment of juveniles who commit felonies. In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in Jones v. Mississippi, emphasizing the importance of considering a juvenile offender’s individual circumstances and potential for rehabilitation (Smith, 2021). This decision underscored the need to move away from one-size-fits-all approaches and toward a more nuanced evaluation of juvenile cases.

Alternative Approaches

Amidst the ongoing debate, it is worth exploring alternative approaches that may provide a more effective and just way to address juveniles who commit felonies. Several states have implemented a hybrid approach that combines elements of both the juvenile and adult justice systems. In these systems, sometimes referred to as “blended” or “extended jurisdiction,” young offenders are initially processed within the juvenile system but can be transferred to the adult system if they do not respond positively to rehabilitation efforts or pose a continued threat to society (Becker et al., 2022).

These hybrid approaches attempt to strike a balance between holding juveniles accountable for their actions and recognizing their potential for growth and change. By allowing for flexibility and case-by-case assessments, they aim to tailor the response to the individual needs and circumstances of each young offender.

Future Considerations

As society evolves and research on adolescent development and criminal behavior continues to advance, the treatment of juveniles who commit felonies will remain a dynamic and evolving issue. Policymakers and legal experts must remain vigilant in their efforts to craft policies that reflect the latest scientific insights and best practices in juvenile justice.

Additionally, it is crucial to address the racial and socioeconomic disparities that often play a significant role in the outcomes of juveniles within the justice system. Recent studies have highlighted the disproportionate impact of harsh sentencing on minority and marginalized youth (Johnson, 2021). Addressing these disparities and ensuring equitable treatment for all juveniles is an essential aspect of reform efforts.

International Perspectives

To gain further insight into the treatment of juveniles who commit felonies, it is valuable to consider international perspectives and approaches. Various countries around the world have adopted diverse methods for dealing with juvenile offenders, reflecting different cultural values and societal priorities.

For instance, some European countries, such as Germany and Norway, emphasize rehabilitation and reintegration for juvenile offenders. These nations focus on individualized assessment, therapeutic interventions, and education, aiming to reduce recidivism and promote the successful reintegration of young offenders into society (Tedeschi et al., 2020). The approach is rooted in the belief that young people are capable of change and should not be permanently stigmatized by their criminal past.

Conversely, other countries, like the United States, tend to rely more on punitive measures, often trying juveniles as adults in certain cases. These differences in approach highlight the wide range of attitudes and strategies for addressing juvenile crime on a global scale.

The Role of Prevention and Early Intervention

While much of the debate surrounding the treatment of juveniles who commit felonies focuses on how to respond once a crime has occurred, it is equally important to consider strategies for prevention and early intervention. Research has consistently shown that investing in programs and services that address the underlying factors contributing to juvenile delinquency can be highly effective in reducing crime (Mann et al., 2022).

Early intervention programs, such as mentoring, family counseling, and educational support, can help identify at-risk youth and provide them with the tools and support they need to avoid criminal behavior. Additionally, efforts to address systemic issues such as poverty, inequality, and lack of access to quality education can have a profound impact on reducing the likelihood that young individuals will turn to crime in the first place.

A Call for Evidence-Based Policies

In any discussion about the treatment of juveniles who commit felonies, it is essential to base policy decisions on empirical evidence and data-driven research. Policymakers should continually assess the outcomes of different approaches and be willing to adapt policies to reflect the best available evidence.

Moreover, transparency and accountability within the juvenile justice system are critical. Collecting and analyzing data on the treatment of juvenile offenders, including disparities based on race, gender, and socioeconomic factors, can help identify areas where reform is needed (Johnson, 2021). Evidence-based policies can lead to fairer and more effective outcomes for all young offenders.

The Responsibility of Society

Ultimately, the question of how to treat juveniles who commit felonies reflects broader societal values and priorities. It is a reflection of our collective commitment to justice, rehabilitation, and the well-being of young individuals who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. As citizens, we bear a responsibility to engage in the dialogue surrounding juvenile justice, to advocate for policies that align with our values, and to support initiatives that promote the positive development of young people.


The question of whether juveniles who commit felonies like rape or robbery should be treated as adults remains a complex and divisive issue. While some argue that treating them as adults is necessary for deterrence and public safety, others contend that it neglects important developmental factors and undermines the potential for rehabilitation. Recent legal developments, such as the Jones v. Mississippi case, reflect a growing recognition of the need for a more individualized and rehabilitative approach to juvenile justice.

In light of these complexities, it is imperative for policymakers, legal experts, and society as a whole to continue examining the evidence, considering the latest research, and engaging in thoughtful discourse to shape policies that strike a balance between accountability and rehabilitation for juveniles who commit felonies. The future of juvenile justice will likely depend on our ability to find this equilibrium and ensure that justice is served while also fostering the growth and development of young offenders.


  1. American Psychological Association (APA). (2019). Adolescence and the Juvenile Justice System: Policy Statement.
  2. Becker, A. B., et al. (2022). Recidivism Among Juvenile Offenders: A Comparative Analysis of Juvenile and Adult Sentencing. Criminology, 60(2), 339-367.
  3. Johnson, C. (2021). Racial Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System: A Comprehensive Review. Race and Social Problems, 13(1), 1-20.
  4. Mann, E., et al. (2022). Preventing Youth Offending: A Systematic Review of Early Intervention and Prevention Programmes. Youth Justice, 22(1), 53-71.
  5. Martin, E. S., & Snyder, H. N. (2020). Juvenile Arrests 2018. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
  6. Tedeschi, F., et al. (2020). Comparative Study on Juvenile Justice: Mapping of Systems and Identification of Good Practices. European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Treating Juveniles who Commit Felonies as Adults

1. What is the current legal approach to treating juveniles who commit felonies as adults in the United States?

The legal approach varies by state, but generally, some states have laws that allow for the transfer of juveniles to the adult criminal justice system for certain serious offenses. Recent legal developments, such as the Jones v. Mississippi case in 2020, have emphasized the importance of considering individual circumstances in these cases.

2. What factors are considered when determining whether a juvenile should be treated as an adult?

Factors considered may include the nature and severity of the offense, the age and developmental stage of the juvenile, prior criminal history, and the potential for rehabilitation. Legal standards and criteria can differ from one jurisdiction to another.

3. What are the arguments for treating juveniles who commit felonies as adults?

Arguments in favor of treating juveniles as adults often revolve around deterrence, public safety, and accountability. Some believe that the threat of adult penalties can deter juvenile offenders and hold them responsible for their actions.

4. What are the arguments against treating juveniles as adults for serious crimes?

Critics argue that juveniles should not be treated as adults due to their ongoing developmental stage and the potential for rehabilitation. They highlight that the adolescent brain is still evolving and that rehabilitation-focused approaches may be more effective in reducing recidivism.

5. Are there alternative approaches to treating juvenile offenders who commit felonies?

Yes, some states have adopted hybrid or blended approaches that combine elements of the juvenile and adult justice systems. These approaches allow for flexibility and individualized assessments of young offenders, considering their potential for rehabilitation.

6. How does the international community approach juvenile offenders who commit serious crimes?

Different countries have varying approaches, with some emphasizing rehabilitation and reintegration, while others lean toward punitive measures. European countries like Germany and Norway often focus on rehabilitation, whereas the United States has a more punitive history in certain cases.

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