Juviniles and the death penalty





Executions of juveniles began in 1642 with the execution of Thomas Graunger, from Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, his age was not stated in the reference. (Minimum Death Penalty Ages) Three hundred and fifty years later, Twenty-Three states have legalized the execution of juveniles. Eighteen of those Twenty-three states have lowered the legal age of execution to sixteen. (Minimum Death Penalty Ages) For reasons unknown the public has supported the death penalty since this country’s existence. In this day and age of increasing violence, both juvenile and adult, it is time to re-examine the use of the death penalty as the ultimate solution to crime. The social repercussions of enforcing the state executions of juveniles far outweigh any of the benefits that may be gained.
The cry for the death penalty is most loudly heard when referring to it as a deterrent. According to Allen Kale he estimates that about 76% of the American public support the use of the death penalty as a deterrent, however that support drops to less than 9% when referring specifically to juveniles. (Kale, pg. 35) The mindset of the American public seems to be drastically different when dealing juveniles. And yet, with only 9% of the public supporting the policy, it remains in effect.
Another strong out cry for the death penalty comes from those wanting restitution for the death of a loved one. It is the thought that a life is the ultimate price to pay, which fuels this argument. The delineation between adults and juveniles is much less clear on this point. Age doesn\'t seem to make much of a difference when dealing with restitution. Putting an individual to death seems to put the minds of certain individuals at ease. This argument seems to make the 9% be the vast majority of supporters then the low number it actually is.
The distinction between juveniles and adults is a very important one. It is often a deciding factor when one is choosing to support the death penalty or not. Although the difference often consists of just a few short years, it is those years which make all the difference. Often its deterrent effect and costs are greatly affected by age and maturity. In fact, most theories and reasons for supporting the death penalty are flawed when applying them to juveniles.
The debate over whether or not the death penalty is an effective deterrent is likely to continue as long as it is in place. However, its deterrent effect towards juveniles is more obvious. There are several reasons why the death penalty does not deter children. The death penalty has a very unique effect on juveniles. It has now become an ineffective means of deterring crime while in some cases actually acting as an incentive for crime.
The first reason the death penalty is an ineffective tool for law enforcement is because it has to do with the hypocrisy surrounding the policy. Because the state is actively taking part in killing, the death penalty is seen as hypocritical by juveniles. It is of course, hard to believe that juveniles not murder when they regularly see it being done by the government with the apparent approval of society. This was supported when Victor Strieb a dean and Professor of Law at Ohio Northern University, stated that "Now they see government officials struggling with a problem of their own, a person whose behavior is unacceptable to them. How do government officials solve their problem? They kill or execute the person who is causing the problem. Is it wrong to kill someone to solve a problem?... It is akin to a lecture to children about the evils of smoking being delivered by a lecturer who is puffing on a cigarette." (Strieb, pg. 245)
The next reason the death penalty is an ineffective tool for Law Enforcement deals with the lack of maturity that most juveniles show. Every juvenile is dealing with enormous amounts of stress everyday. It is these pressures that affect the deterrent effect of the juvenile death penalty. Each juvenile deals with this stress in a different way, however, because of this stress, many adolescents act impulsively at times. Stephen Harper a veteran public defender in Miami-Dade County states, ”This is not a