Our juvenile justice system in Nebraska is out of balance in a number of ways. When we dig into the data a bit we find two surprising statistics that demonstrate that fact:
1.) Of the 13,144 Nebraska youth arrested in 2011, only 1.5% were for violent crimes, yet 31.7% (or nearly 1 in 3) of youth arrested were filed in adult court.
2.) Once a youth’s case is filed in adult court, only 19% of children were transferred to the juvenile court.
Trying teens as adults does not account for the fundamental differences between young brains and fully developed adult brains. Adolescent’s brains are still developing, so they do not have the same capacity to understand long-term consequences, control impulses, handle stress, and resist peer pressure as adults.
Treating children as adults neither works to reduce or prevent violence, but actually has been shown to lead to a higher likelihood of the youth committing crime, including violent ones, later in life. While it is important for youth to accept responsibility and the consequences of their actions, the justice system must acknowledge the difference between children and adults.
Treating children as children, even children who break the law, promotes public safety and improves the odds of success for youth in the court system.