Should children be tried as adults in court?

Two 12-year-old girls, who have been charged with stabbing a classmate, are currently being tried as adults in Wisconsin, AP reported.

Wisconsin law requires suspects who are at least 10 years old to be charged as adults in severe crimes. Attorneys for the girls arrested in the stabbing have said they will try to get their clients’ cases moved back to juvenile court. The Associated Press is not naming the girls while their cases could still be moved.

Allegedly the two girls stabbed their classmate to earn the favor of Slender Man, a fictional horror character. One of the suspects has already been instructed to seek mental health treatment. The judge will decide on Wednesday whether the other girl is also fit to be on trial, AP reported.

This case raises a number of concerns of whether the adult system can give the appropriate amount of care to children.

But Tina Freiburger, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor who has studied the juvenile system, said it might not be much better. Most children who end up in the juvenile court system have been truant, missed a curfew or were involved in a minor crime. The Slender Man case is rare in its violence, she said.

“Luckily, we don’t have a lot of 12-year-olds going out and committing crimes like this,” Freiburger said. “That’s a good thing. But then the bad thing is that when we have it happen, we don’t have a system in place to really deal with their needs.”

Studies done in multiple states have found more than half of the children charged as adults have some type of mental illness, she said. But she wasn’t aware of any research that compared the mental health care provided to children in the adult system to that in the juvenile system to see which was more effective.

Some criminal justice experts have called for programs specifically for children charged as adults because of the mental illness, levels of violence and long criminal histories that often mark those cases, Freiburger said.

Today’s Question: Should children be tried as adults in court?

  • Jim G

    Children are children.
    They need to be in juvenile court.
    They are immature. Their brains will not fully develop until they reach their mid-twenties.Yes, as noted in the AP report, they can be capable of horrendous acts. However, how many of us who did stupendously stupid things as children or teenagers would want to still be in prison into our maturity. It just doesn’t look like justice. Yes, the taking of lives is especially egregious, but indeed, because they are outliers, I believe in a just society they’d be given competent psychological care. They will not receive that care in our adult prisons.

  • Sue de Nim

    If we want our criminal justice system to provide vengeance, then yes. If we want it to reform the reformable (and protect us from the unreformable), then no. What Jim G said.

  • PaulJ

    If juvenile courts are capable of dealing with very serious crimes, why do any cases get transferred?

    • davehoug

      The maximum penalty is less under Juvenile Court.

  • JQP

    I think the arbitrary distinction of courts split on age (child/adult) is not really valid.
    Courts should be split on what types of crimes they review (criminal violent, criminal non-violent , civil non-business, civil-business).

    the guidelines for how to treat lesser-minds (youth, diminished capacity, etc) within proceedings ( testimony, questioning, assessment, representation) may be adapted for the particular court.

    As it stands now… neither court is well suited (trained) to coherently resolve the status of the defendants nor to effectively deliver penal or corrective solutions.

  • DMR

    in many instances juveniles make decisions and take actions without fully understanding the consequences of their actions. To assume that a 12 year old has full knowledge of their actions is not valid.

  • Jen

    A most emphatic NO. Children (minors 18 and under) should never be in adult court, facing adult sentences in adult facilities. In many states, including Minnesota (not sure about Wisconsin), juveniles can receive blended sentences that impose conditions (confinement, treatment, restitution, etc.) that are in effect until 18 or older, with an adult sentence stayed as a deterrent / heavier penalty. No matter how heinous the crime, children are not just small adults that should be locked up for life. At 12, they are not cognitively mature, and could not have imagined the potential life-long consequences of their actions. These girls clearly need psychological counseling, at a minimum. But putting them in adult prisons (or confining them anywhere for decades) is inhumane.

  • Sam

    No. A plethora of cases shifted to adult court over the years shows that society can’t handle the exception and will clamor for exceptional treatment in too many cases to assuage their outrage.The rule needs to stand firm, no exceptions.