There are numerous differences between the adult and juvenile justice system, most importantly the concept. The juvenile justice system was put in place for rehabilitation and hope for the future while the adult justice system was put in place for punishment and deterrence of future crime.
Until 1899 it was thought in the United States that any defendant aged seven or older was competent to stand trial and receive the same punishment for their crime as adults. As ludicrous as that sounds, our country began reverting back to this way of thinking during the late 80's, early 90's 'Crack Wars'. After a spike in violent juvenile crimes, rather than seeing the problem for what it was, children with no fathers, drug addicted mothers and poverty, it was decided that these children were unworthy of rehabilitation. The United States took the 'out of sight, out of mind' approach and laws were passed that allowed children to be locked away with adults for the rest of their lives. They were even eligible for execution for a time but thankfully, that law was reverted back in 2005. In the years since the spike in crime rate, juvenile violent crime rates have dropped drastically yet the rate of children being tried as adults has continued to climb.
A juvenile housed in an adult detention center is five times more likely to be the victim of sexual assault then juveniles housed in detention centers, two times more likely to be abused by the staff and close to 8 times more likely to commit suicide. Further, if a juvenile witnesses violence which is much more likely to happen in adult housing centers, they will very likely commit a violent crime in their future. They are children, still learning, still very impressionable and most came from troubled homes and are in search of someone to look up to; is prison really the appropriate place to find their mentor? Is this solution honestly for the good of our countries future?
There are definitely people born into this world with aggression and hate for no apparent reason but lets be honest, if you look at lives of most troubled teens and youth, you're sure to find abuse and neglect. Juvenile courts examine the abuse and make a plan for the child's future while adult courts look solely at the crime and though abuse may be mentioned during trial it has little to no bearing on their punishment. If a crime is committed by a juvenile that the district attorney dubs heinous enough for adult punishment, abuse is ignored and mercy is thrown out the window, how shameful. As the saying goes ' You can judge a society by how it treats its weakest'.
One major argument we hear is that a minor charged as a juvenile for a heinous crime, will receive a very light sentence and be released when they are 21 years old. So here is my question, instead of making laws that allow minors to be charged as adults and collectively deciding these children are unworthy of second chances, why not make a few changes to the juvenile justice system? Why not write in laws that allow for stiffer punishment while still offering rehabilitation and at the same time keeps kids out of adult prisons? Seems so strange that this isn't an option, these are our children and the future of our country, and especially since if anyone will be receptive to rehabilitation, it will more likely be the confused youth than the hardened criminal.
As we've seen in previous stories, many cases of wrongful conviction or overcharging involve very young and naive or uneducated defendants. Yet despite this fact, we put younger even more uneducated children in the very same hands than look the other way.
Castle Rock, CO, 1997~ 15 year-old Nathan Ybanez joined 16 year-old Erik Jensen's band and they became good friends very quickly. Even today, 17 years later both have only good words to say about each other. According to Erik and his parents, Nate was a polite and loyal kid but it became apparent quickly that something was very wrong at home.
After overhearing a disturbing phone call between Nate and his mom Julie Ybanez and other overwhelming evidence of physical abuse from Nate's father, Erik and another friend Brett Baker decided to go to their parents. Erick relayed to his parents that Nate was definitely being abused physically and mentally and more than likely sexually by his mother. The Jensen's took this information seriously and went to Social Services to ask for help. Much to the Jensen's surprise and disbelief, they were told that there wasn't enough resources available to help a child of Nate's age. The abuse continued.
1998~ Erik, Nate and their friend Brett stopped by Nate's house, Nate ran up while Erik and Brett waited in the car. After waiting for a while Erik decided to go see what was taking so long, Julie Ybanez answered the door and let him in. Before Erik knew what was happening, Nate began yelling "You're not going to do this to me anymore" at his mother and attacked her. Nate strangled his mother to death during the attack. In the aftermath Erik and Brett both in shock over what had happened, tried to help their friend and dispose of the body. The body was discovered quickly with Nate standing very close by, visibly shaking and suffering from shock, and all three boys were arrested. In the end Brett took a plea deal with prosecution and his charges were dropped while the charges against Erik went from accessory to 1st degree murder and conspiracy to name a few. Nate and Erik,16 and 17 respectively were tried as adults.
Erik's trial was set to begin in August of 1999. Prosecution had been working on a plea deal but the deal was suddenly rejected when a tragedy occurred right around the corner at Columbine High School. Erik was from the same area as the Columbine shooters, close in age and shared one of their names. The state of Colorado and the country was still reeling in the wake of the tragedy at the time of his jury selection. Erik was found guilty of 1st Degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Nathan's trial was a few months later, the entire trial from jury selection to sentencing took a whopping three days. Nate was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In 2006 a law passed in Colorado ruling that Juvenile's receiving life in prison without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional, even calling it cruel and unusual punishment. This news brought a great deal of hope to Erik, Nate and others just like them but it seems they've been stuck in limbo for the last eight years waiting to hear how it will affect their sentences. It's easy to be wrongfully convicted or overcharged and imprisoned but next to impossible to get out.
The Pendulum Foundation
Frontline~ When Kids Get Life
Free Nathan Ybanez & Erik Jensen
Erik Jensen, juvenile lifer, hangs onto hope "now more than ever"
Jefferson City, MO, 1999~ 16 year old Kenneth Gray was arrested and charged with robbing, shooting and killing his neighbor, R.W. Cooley. He was tried as an adult and at the suggestion of his attorney, waived his right to a trial by jury. Kenneth was promptly convicted of murder in the 2nd degree, burglary in the 1st degree and armed criminal action. He was sentenced to 2 life sentences that run concurrently plus 15 years. Immediately upon sentencing Kenneth was shipped to an adult super max housing facility to begin serving his time.
Kenneth grew up in a home of secrets, hate, racism, violence and drugs and he suffered years of abuse as a child. The website set up by his supporters describes his life before prison as full of sexual, physical and mental abuse. He had an IQ of about 72 and a 5th grade level education. The abuse led to severe anxiety and depression and he was eventually hospitalized and treated with antidepressants.
Kenneth, a slow learning 16 year old being treated for emotional problems was given power to waive his rights during interrogation and during trial. He was also questioned by investigators without the presence of a guardian because per the state, he waived his right to have his mother present. Neither his trial attorney nor the appellant attorneys challenged the states decision to try Kenneth as an adult. A juvenile being tried as an adult has very few possible advantages, one is possibility that a jury could have sympathy for a child, Kenneth, on the urging on his attorney, waived this possibility. Its obvious that his attorneys were not only incompetent but more than likely working for the other side, it seems his right to a good defense was waved right out the window with everything else.
Kenneth was denied many rights including his right to a fair trial, please help support his case by spreading the word. A child that would never have been treated as an adult under any under circumstance was tried as an adult and than urged to wave the few rights he had available. What if this were YOUR child?
Kenneth confessed during the interrogation but recanted very quickly and named his stepfather as the shooter. According to Kenneth his stepfather was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and user and manufacturer of Methamphetamine who abused his family on a daily basis. I have provided links to Kenneth's webpage and twitter account below if you would like to read more about his case.
JUSTICE FOR KENNETH GRAY
Kenneth GRAY, Petitioner v.Jeff NORMAN,Respondent.
Article written by Lisa Wallace
Copyright © 2014
Freedom For All
All Rights Reserved