Explain the superpredator myth and discuss the ramifications of the myth upon juveniles, law enforcement, corrections, courts and society.

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The "superpredator myth" was a product of growing concerns during the 1980s and 1990s that rates of violent crime among young males under the age of 18, were rising and would continue to rise unless such juveniles were subjected to the far more draconian system used to prosecute and imprison adults. Fears, based upon a number of high-profile crimes involving teenagers, that the United States was evolving into a nation of murderous sociopaths, had what many today would consider an extraordinarily deleterious effect for many juvenile delinquents who may have committed atrocious acts, but the punishments for which should have been less severe and, certainly, less destructive to the long-term health of these otherwise rehabilitatable youths. Children, by definition, are to some extent incapable of making informed, rational decisions that can shape the rest of their lives. That so many, for two decades, were subjected to the adult criminal justice system despite their young ages was a direct outcome of those earlier fears that we as a country were producing "superpredators" who killed, raped, and robbed without conscience. The reason that this prognostication is today labeled as a "myth" is because those earlier fears have not materialized despite the rampant problem in many cities and towns of youth participation in violent gang activity.

The ramifications of those fears regarding "superpredators" are profound for the juveniles involved and for society as a whole. By prosecuting so many youths as adults, and imprisoning those found guilty in adult-oriented correctional facilities or prisons, children incapable of rational, informed decisions are deprived of their adulthood and subjected to the cruelest conditions. Many grown men are incapable of protecting themselves against the true "superpredators," the biggest, strongest, and toughest convicts who control cell blocks more than the corrections officers paid to execute that mission. How, then, can teenagers hope to survive, physically as well as with any form of dignity, in such an environment? In short, then, many youths have been, some argue, subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in defiance of their constitutional rights. 

It is no secret that prisons are incubators of more ruthless criminal elements. Housed among murderers, armed robbers, and those found guilty of physically assaulting others, etc., youths who are guilty of heinous crimes will almost certainly be turned into more hardened criminals than they were when they entered the correctional system. Prison hierarchies, after all, are merciless in their treatment of those who occupy the lower rungs. A result of the "superpredator myth," therefore, is the creation of the actual superpredators the tougher policies were intended to prevent or contain.

The ramification of the "superpredator myth" for law enforcement and for corrections lies mainly in the latter category's treatment of such condemned youths. As the recent series of articles in the New York Times on scandals at the Rikers Island correctional facility illustrated [See: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/r/rikers_island_prison_complex/index.html], young incarcerated offenders are often no match for the brutality that can be inflicted on them by fellow prisoners and by sadistic or poorly-trained and supervised corrections officers alike. Such an environment ultimately demeans and degrades both the youths and those who are responsible for guarding them.

Society ultimately pays the price for the excessive tendency to prosecute youths as adults. For starters, the cost of incarceration for each individual inmate is very high. The federal government estimates that cost at over $28,000 per prisoner [https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/03/18/2013-06139/annual-determination-of-average-cost-of-incarceration]. Second, and extending from the earlier discussion of the role of incarceration in creating more hardened criminals among those who were once youthful offenders, the price paid by society as a whole in law enforcement, judicial and correctional expenses will grow as recidivism grows. Rehabilitation is a tenuous propositions among hardened criminals who have had to struggle to maintain some semblance of dignity in the oppressive and violent atmosphere of medium and maximum security prisons. Teenagers who mature in such an environment and who are eventually released (as opposed to those facing life sentences) have a difficult time reassimilating into society and are likely to reoffend, to the detriment of the victim and to the taxpayer who once again is footing the bill to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate this individual.

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