Stabbing leads to questions about trying juveniles as adults

Many children are tried as adults, but the adult prison system may be more harmful to juveniles in the long run.

By now, many people in the country have heard of the highly publicized stabbing of a 12-year-old Wisconsin girl over a fictional urban legend. This case is so unique because the ones accused of the crime are two of her friends, also 12-year-old girls. The girls are being tried as adults and face a charge of first-degree attempted homicide. However, some advocate groups question the practice of trying children as adults, saying that it doesn't solve the problem of juvenile crime and may, in fact, lead to greater problems later on.

The New York Daily News reported on the incident, during which the two girls invited their friend over for a sleepover in Waukesha, then stabbed her 19 times in a park the next day. The girls had allegedly been planning the event since December, and stated to authorities they had done it in an attempt to please a fictional supernatural character they read about on the Internet. The two girls face up to 60 years in prison if they are convicted.

Injustices Juveniles May Face in Adult Prisons

While this is a difficult case, being tried as adults may also be difficult for those whose emotions and intelligence have not fully developed. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, about 3,000 juveniles throughout the U.S. have been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for felony convictions. In some cases, the children were as young as 13 years old. The group maintains that many of these children grew up in poverty or were neglected or abused, and therefore did not have the skills to cope with challenges as they grew up.

Adult prisoners face many hardships while incarcerated, ranging from isolation to assault to staff abuses. It should therefore come as no surprise that children may be even more vulnerable when they are put into a prison meant for adults. The Justice Policy Institute says that juveniles face a number of challenges in adult prison, including the following:

  • Violence — They may be twice as likely to be assaulted by staff or other prisoners.
  • Sexual assault — They may be up to five times as likely to endure sexual abuse or rape.
  • Suicide — The suicide rate of juveniles is 7.7 times higher in adult prisons.

Additionally, PBS Frontline makes a point that young people may not be well served by going through the adult justice system. After their release from adult prison, many juveniles have been shown to reoffend more quickly and more often than those who went through juvenile court treatment.

How an Attorney Can Help

The question of whether to try some juveniles as adults is a difficult dilemma. Regardless of the crime they are being accused of, everyone deserves the right to be treated fairly in court. Many young people may be better treated in the juvenile system, where they can receive the help and resources they need to turn their lives around during this critical growing-up period. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your options if you or your child is facing charges.

Keywords: criminal defense, juvenile, crimes