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Efficacy of Harsh Punishments for Teenage Violence

NCJ Number
Valparaiso University Law Review Volume: 31 Issue: 2 Dated: (Spring 1997) Pages: 427-434
V L Streib
Date Published
8 pages
Harsh punishments for violent juvenile offenders (life in prison without parole and the death penalty) do not deter hardcore violent juveniles; such offenders should be incarcerated and treated past their young adult years and then released.
Those who favor draconian punishments for violent juvenile offenders argue that life imprisonment without parole and execution will remove violent juveniles from any situation in which they will commit future crimes, and other youth will be deterred from committing violent crimes. There is no question that life imprisonment and execution will prevent the involved juveniles from committing any more crimes in society, but these are financially expensive and shockingly unmerciful alternatives. Another alternative provides the same societal protection at a fraction of the cost. The preferred alternative is to lock up violent youth in secure confinement, where they will learn to modify their violent behavior. Some can be released into the community within a relatively short time period, and others will take many years. If they are confined for approximately 20 years until they are in their mid-30s, in almost all cases they will have outgrown their teenage impulsiveness and violence. Research has found that youth violence is committed by a small percentage of hardcore violent youth who grow up in bleak and violent conditions, both in their homes and in their neighborhoods. It is unrealistic to assume that they will alter their behavior because of the vague threat of severe punishment should they be caught. Regardless of the political unpopularity of being "tough on crime" by correcting societal conditions, this is the only true long-term fix for violent juvenile crime. Our focus should be less on punishing the last offender and more on saving the next victim. 31 footnotes