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No place for kids

Sending juveniles to jail is counterproductive. India must reconsider the JJ act amendment.

By: Express News Service | Published: June 22, 2015 12:00 am
juvenile justice act, jj act, Juvenile Justice Act India, juvenile justice, supreme court, JJ Act, JJ Act changes, indian express, indian express The clamour to impose harsher punishment on older teenagers arose after one of the perpetrators of the December 16 gangrape was revealed to be 17 years old.

In May, the Lok Sabha ignored the recommendations of its standing committee to pass an amended Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014, which would allow children between 16 and 18 years of age accused of committing “heinous” crimes to be tried as adults. The clamour to impose harsher punishment on older teenagers arose after one of the perpetrators of the December 16 gangrape was revealed to be 17 years old, and the government, led by Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, answered this illiberal demand, prompted by one horrifying case, with undue alacrity. A comprehensive new study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics should nudge the government to rethink its ill-judged position.

The study evaluated the long-term outcomes for thousands of teenagers in conflict with the law in Chicago, US. The US, which has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, also jails more juveniles than any other country. The study, conducted by economists at MIT Sloan School of Management and Brown University, found that children who are incarcerated are substantially worse-off later in life than those who avoid serving time for similar offences. It looked at cases involving 35,000 juveniles, who had all committed offences that provided judges with discretion in determining the appropriate sentence. Because offenders were assigned judges randomly, the researchers were able to examine the consequences of varying sentences for the children. They found that juvenile incarceration reduced the probability of graduating high school by 13 percentage points, and that these children are more likely to end up in prison as adults by as much as 22 percentage points. Crucially, it also found that the timing of incarceration matters: the effects are strongest for 16-year-olds, a critical period of adolescence when going to jail would spell an end to high school education.

The Indian and American justice systems differ in many ways, but the impact of prison, especially the adult criminal punishment system, on children is probably similar, with India coming off worse. If the juvenile justice system is meant to be reformative, the new amendment is a move in entirely the wrong direction. Given that the bill is yet to clear Rajya Sabha, the government could still limit the damage and withdraw its ill-considered proposal.

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  1. A
    Azhar Ali
    Jun 22, 2015 at 8:49 am
    Juveniles are in their formative years and hence lack in clarity of ideas as to what they should do in a particular situation and this state of mental confusion fails them to differentiate between 'good and bad' or 'right and wrong' and that's why they are easily led astray from the right path. Putting them behind bars in so early an age has an adverse bearing on their mental development and they often start, in turn, taking crime in their stride. Hence, the JJ act amendment is the pressing need of the hour!
    1. T
      Jun 22, 2015 at 9:53 am
      If we consider the record of heinous crimes committed by juveniles, we certainly have to think of its definition. Is it only the age or his conduct and social interaction, which defines whether he is an 'innocent' child or a mature person who is aware of what he is doing? Arguments that jailing does not reform or reduce crime rates can be applied even to adults. Very few get reformed. They return to their criminal ways, sometimes even during paroles, and in many cases crime is the only profession they know to make a living. Should we therefore abolish the penal code, and prisons ? The solution is to strengthen the rehabilitation measures, which will prevent the criminals from returning to crime and give them a sense of dignity. In the case of those who are considered 'innocent', the rehabilitation should include, isolation from hardened criminals, and compulsory education and skill training. Just letting off someone who is less than 18 years, but who is a mature mentally and biologically, even if he commits horrible crimes , and letting him loose on society after a small stint in a Borstal insution cannot be a sensible solution. This is what the new law intends to correct, and , may be some amendments may be needed to fine-tune it. W criticism of this reform unwarranted.