Last week, 17-year-old T.J. Lane fired randomly at students at Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio, killing three and seriously injuring two. According to the New York Times, prosecutors said it is likely Lane will be transferred from juvenile court and be charged as an adult for these crimes.
This option is a failure of the juvenile justice system in understanding and rehabilitating the delinquent youth of this country. The Ohio juvenile court system should keep Lane’s case in juvenile court. The system was founded on the idea that a juvenile does not become delinquent or violent without cause. It is the responsibility of the juvenile justice system to understand why a juvenile has become delinquent and to assist the juvenile in getting back on track.
Assigning an offender to live in an adult prison to pay their debt to society is enormously unproductive and doesn’t guarantee the juvenile will emerge an outstanding citizen. To the contrary, according to the Juvenile Law Center, a nonprofit organization advocating for children’s rights within the justice, child welfare and other public systems, juveniles serving adult sentences are 32 percent more likely to commit crimes again than juveniles who remained in the juvenile justice system.
Approximately 200,000 juveniles are prosecuted as adults every year, according to the Juvenile Law Center. Unlike their adult counterparts, mental disorders are common for 50 to 75 percent of juvenile offenders, compared to 9 to 20 percent for adults, with 25 percent suffering from severe impairment.
According to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the development of the human brain and the maturation of a child is of the utmost importance when deciding the juvenile’s level of culpability. The final area of the brain to mature governs reasoning and impulse control and does not finish developing until the approximate age of 25. If offenders are not mature enough to legally vote or drink alcohol, it doesn’t make sense to expect them to be mature enough to understand the full ramifications of homicide. Understanding physiological and psychological development of children is essential in an effective juvenile justice system and should be required.
Transferring a case to criminal court and charging the juvenile as an adult is antithetical to the ideals the juvenile justice system was founded upon. Juveniles should be assigned to rehabilitation facilities specifically designed to address juvenile developmental and psychological issues. Through the use of group therapy sessions where the roots of their behavior are explored and where explicit behavioral expectations have swift and unwavering consequences, juvenile offenders can become productive citizens. The Ohio judges would be right to try Lane as a minor. Hopefully, they can set a lasting precedent.
Joy Camacho is a graduate student studying in criminology.