Young adult criminals: Seriousness doesn't outweigh immaturity?
We have recently attended a seminar on sentencing. One of the subjects of the day discussed was sentencing of young adults. The main issues discussed were their maturity and moral development. It was said that penal intervention for 18 - 24-year-olds can disrupt their development thus a separate approach is needed. Apparently, under 25-year-olds (25yos) are a distinct group with distinct needs.
Not knowing the law doesn't excuse the law breaker in most cases so why should maturity be a factor?
Trying to set different standards for sentencing of young adult offenders is like trying to decriminalise them in the name of rehabilitation. Young people committing crimes and violence are far from pranksters. They are violent thugs, often carrying knives and other weapons in order to outdo each other. They have no regard for life or causing lifelong trauma, injuries or loss to someone. In many cases they commit elaborate crimes but don't get punished for them with meaningful custody. Isn't public protection what law and order is about?
As is so often the case, they are filming their actions live through social media. So we become reluctant participants when the videos flood the various platforms through which we get the daily dose of what's happening in our communities or the world. Whose responsibility is it to call the police and ambulance as soon as possible? Because as we have seen time and time again these thugs film their shocking actions and laugh, or a passer-by films but no one seems to be helping or calling the police. If they eventually end up in court the punishment often doesn't fit the crime as their age is a factor so different rules apply.
Young offenders (<18) and young adults (<25) are treated by judges at judges' discretion - thus can be treated differently depending on their age. The hopes are that through some magic of rehabilitation they should be given a second chance. If they show remorse and want to truly learn and overturn their lives, who are we to say they should not be given a second chance? But this chance cannot go without an incarceration. Freedom is one of the most precious things in life and shouldn't be taken lightly away from a person, however even a young criminal deserves to learn that for crimes you pay with having your freedom and liberties taken away. If you are remorseful, and you ask that you are helped on the path to good life without crime, then you can be given that second chance. But it should not happen lightly. The opposite of that seems to be happening.
According to a professor from Sheffield University, data show that fewer young people are going through criminal courts even though this is not in correlation with reduction in crime. Is this deliberate decriminalisation of young people in the name of rehabilitation?
Campaigners say that prison should be the last resort for these young offenders because they have a better chance of turning their lives around if they are shown some sort of compassion. It is not their fault that they are thugs but always someone else's - the society's, the parents', the care system - just not those who commit crimes.
The most striking arguments presented were that "young people are generally less able to exercise good judgement, more vulnerable to negative influences, and may be less able to think about the potential result of their actions" . Custodial sentences for under 25yos should be only imposed if absolutely unavoidable (i.e. a horrific crime is committed), and there should be separate sentencing guidelines for this group too. because young minds continue to develop until at least the age of 25.
Restore Justice disagrees with those who advocate for more dividing lines and separate guidelines in the criminal justice system, especially when immaturity is dragged as a factor into adulthood. 18-year-olds are perfectly able to be so mature that they can work, set up businesses and become bosses, even CEOs by the age of 25. So immaturity cannot be a factor when one reaches their early 20s. People can behave stupidly at any age not just in their teens and early twenties. In general, people know right from wrong. If we say they can't exercise good judgement then they should not have the right to drive, vote, or be allowed to drink alcohol.
Let's stop making excuses for criminals.