I could not agree more with #4. Human nature is the same for all of us, and those tendencies don't have minimum (or maximum) age limits. What does change is the thinking processes; they mature as we grow, and the statistics regarding the age of prisoners would undoubtedly support this idea. Youth are often impetuous and they are generally greater risk-takers than their more mature counterparts. Most importantly, based on my 28 years of experience with high-schoolers, young people are willing to take more risks because they really don't think they're going to get caught and, if they do, they somehow think it won't matter. That's a perfect mindset for criminal behavior.
I do agree with many judges who give juvenile offenders second chances after breaking the law for misdemeanor and even minor felony charges. I agree that often life circumstances drive young people into negative peer pressure and lack of reasoning and maturity allows them to live without fear of consequences. That said, I believe there should be consequences - but I think kids deserve second chances.
I used to work at a wilderness camp for juvenile delenquints who had either broken the law and this was an alternative to jail, had been kicked out of school (or were so severly failing that they were a high risk for dropping out) and this was the final option, or were sent privately from parents who didn't know what else to do. We worked with these students for between 11 and 18 months - living with them, counseling them, teaching them how to make better choices (it was a program based on Glasser's Reality Therapy), and also getting them academically caught up to where they needed to be. I think the program boasts of an 85% success rate for students who graduated the program (meaning 85% went back into the real world and were successful).
To be honest, I wish there was more funding for a thousand more programs like this one. I even wish they could do something similar for adults.
There are surely many reasons why young people break the law. To me, the main reasons are:
- Young people do not have such good reasoning skills as older people and do not really understand the long term consequences of what they do. This means young people will be more likely to do something on an impulse that they should not have.
- Peer pressure. Young people have a harder time resisting pressure from others. They want to look "cool" and will go along, at times, with things they know are wrong.
- Rebelliousness. Young people like, more than older people, to break rules. I think this is because they are subject to more rules and feel less control of their lives.
Putting these together, I would argue that young people should be punished less harshly for crimes because they tend to commit crimes out of reasons other than malice.
Most of the reasons that lead to young people committing offences are same as the reasons that lead to older people committing crime. However there are some factors that are more predominant. First, younger people have less experience and knowledge of this world, because of these they are more likely to make wrong judgements about the likely consequences and risks of offenses they commit. Also, because of their inexperience, they may have unrealistic expectations and beliefs about the nature of the world and the society. This may lead them to exaggerate the injustice of their problems and hold grudge against particular individuals or society in general as cause of their problems.
Then younger people generally do not have or feel the responsibility to support a family. This reduces their perception of risks involved in committing offence. Finally, the younger people are not that well adjusted to the social system and culture because there is always a gap between need for changes in the social systems and actual incorporation of these changes in the social systems and culture.