Juveniles: Too Young To Die?


By Aaron Dechant
English Comp. I A
Mr. Keller


In 1643 a sixteen year old boy was put to death for sodomizing a cow.
Three hundred and fifty years later, sixteen states have legitimized the
execution of juveniles. Four of those twelve states have lowered the legal age
of execution to twelve. For whatever reasons the death penalty has been
supported by the public 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 use of a deterrent. According to Allen Kale "it is estimated 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 1) 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 outcry 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 is what makes
that 9% seem to be the vast majority.

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 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 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 61)

The next 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. Henry Heft explains that

"Peer pressure and family environment subject adolescents to enormous
psychological and emotional stress. Adolescents respond to stressful
situations by acting impulsively and without the mature judgments
expected
from adults. These characteristics are shared by all
adolescents...Thus, the
possibility of capitol punishment is meaningless to juveniles and has
no
deterrent effect." (Heft 30)

Finally it can be seen that not only does the death penalty hold no
deterrent for juveniles but in some cases it act as an incentive for crime. This
can happen for two separate reasons. The first deals with the peer pressure
mentioned above.