How old is too old to be considered a juvenile?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — WREG explores a controversial solution to reducing violence in Memphis among young people. The Department of Justice is recommending raising the minimum age for those who can be tried as adults.

Under the proposed plan, those as old as 24 years old could be treated as juveniles.

The recommended change is creating a big debate, especially among victims.

“They knew that was not their car and they went there to do just what they did and take my son’s life,” said Ruth Wilkins.

Three guys are charged with killing Wilkins’ grandson. Police say they shot Larry Wilkins in a robbery after they answered a Craigslist ad to buy his Ford Mustang.

Twenty-one-year-old Brandon Vance went straight to criminal court. A juvenile court magistrate decided the other two, Martiness Henderson and Walter Collins, who were both 17 years old at the time, would also be tried as adults.

“At 17 years old, 16 years old, I don’t care how old or how young you are. If you plan to do something like that, you should be considered as an adult,” said Larry Wilkins, Sr., the victim’s father.

Under a plan by the U.S. Department of Justice, all three suspects might have the opportunity to be treated as juveniles. The federal agency is recommending juvenile courts raise the age of teens they serve from 18 years old to somewhere between 21 and 24 years old.

“Young people who commit these types of crimes are not always thinking correctly,” said John Hall, a former juvenile probation officer.

Hall spent 30 years working in juvenile justice and now consults for the Justice Department. He says the change is based on brain development.

“In research, a neuroscientist says that youth is not fully developed until the ages of 18 to 24,” said Hall.

WREG visited the JIFF program and saw teens that are similar to the young offenders the Justice Department is talking about. JIFF stands for Juvenile Intervention and Faith Based follow-up. They were learning about the culinary arts, but not by choice. Juvenile court sent them to JIFF after they got into trouble.

Most of the teens in JIFF have been arrested an average of five times each, and some even committed violent crimes.

JIFF executive director, Richard Graham said, “The number one thing we focus on is changing the youth’s relative value system. From this is the way that I roll. This is the culture I was born into to one of an absolute value system.”

At 18 years old, the teens are no longer part of JIFF. Graham says some of them still need the services, but JIFF needs more private donors to expand the program or juvenile court would have to raise the age of those it serves.

Raising the age of juvenile court is something the chief administrator of the court thinks they might need to do.

“Until they’re age 21, I think that would be a good compromise,” said Larry Scroggs of Shelby County Juvenile Court.

Scroggs thinks 24 may be too old for juvenile court, but says cutting services at 18 often is too early. He says the problem is where to house them.

“You cannot put a 14-year-old with a 20-year-old or 21-year-old, so there would have to be some special housing for them,” said Scroggs.

Even if the Department of Justice approved the plan, it would need to convince families like the Wilkinses.

“If they want to change the law, I don’t think it’s right,” said Wilkins, Sr.

He added, “If the crime is heinous like you go out and kill somebody to take something, you made a decision that you’re grown and that’s the decision you have to live with.”

Police say it was one of the 17-year-olds who pulled the trigger, killing Wilkins’ son.

22 comments

  • Steph

    They have already gone through their juvenile years. They are adults and should be treated so. You can smoke legally by 18 & drink my 21 so don’t turn around and say they are still little children til they are 24. Just a law that they will USE to get away with breaking laws they knew full well was not right

  • impulse item

    I you pick up a weapon and do violence against another person with that weapon then, you should be tried as an adult. Your parents(term used loosely) should also be held accountable to some extent.

  • Thisaintit

    This is an excellent example that these people dont live in your neighborhood……….so it would be a great idea for u to keep killing each other so we dont have to deal with the problem…….man …tjis society is screwed…….SAD

  • freedomwasawesome

    Ok Now that is the dumbest thing I have heard all week! No wait…… alll year!!!!!!!!!!

    • Anonymous

      I like your username. I remember learning about freedom in school many years ago. It’s difficult to remember exactly what it was like though.

      When the government thinks the only way to do its job is to add to the millions of laws already restricting us, there is a serious problem. Add in the police who are allowed to beat and kill us and our pets with impunity and there is little doubt that our days of freedom are well behind us. :(

  • Pam

    The definition of juvenile according to law is 17 years 364 days 23 hours 59 minutes. What the problem is, is DA’s jumping in, charging 14 and 15 year olds as adults. Genarlow Wilson anyone. They aren’t adults any more than a 24 year old is a juvenile. If you really want to get your mind blown..Kids under 18 who s*xt pictures of themselves to each other, are getting charged as adults with child p*rn charges! Yes that’s right y’all a 17 year old who s*xt her own picture of herself to her boyfriend can get charged with child p*rn because she’s under 18, and get charged as an adult because it a serious crime. So the law says she’s a child but also an adult at the same time. This kind of stuff is going on all around the country.

  • Tracy Smith

    I agree they have already been through their juvenile system, and they deserve to be charged as adults. They shouldn’t be treated as juveniles after imposing murder upon someone when they knew what their plans were that night. I will write to the Department of Justice, JIFF, Richard Graham and John Hall opposing any plans to attempt to hold any one within the Juvenile System until they are 24 years of age. It’s called holding people accountable for their actions. Yes I am a member of the Wilkin’s family.
    John Hall to state these thugs that are committing these heinous crimes aren’t thinking correctly. (Yes we know that, however do they really care about the lives they affect when they commit these crimes?) To make someone go through a Program as one called JIFF due to the crime they committed is not their choice but to reduce their sentence and place these criminals back into society to commit many other crimes.
    To the JIFF executive director, Richard Graham, you nor any faith based organization can’t change these youth’s relative value systems. JIFF isn’t what these youths need, if they aren’t reached at much younger ages with striving to improve their thinking, values or the proper parental guidance they are lost and the result is crimes.
    As for the Chief Administrator of the court, Larry Scroggs holding them to they are 21 isn’t a good idea as well. What’s the difference with allowing a person that has reached the age of 19 to continue to be in school with children 15-17 years of age? These older children exposing theses younger youth to poor behaviors which leaves to crimes. The problem starts at home with parents.
    Lastly, under no circumstances should the Department of Justice approve any plan of such. The crime committed should uphold the status of being charged as an adult for the crime that was committed that imposed murder or any intent to commit bodily harm. It’s too late to reach them after they have committed violent crimes.

  • freedomwasawesome

    The real question is ,,, How much like a wild animal is too much to be considered a human being?

  • 1midtownmike

    This is the “hope & change” liberal whacko’s voted into the oval office in 2008……The blood will be on Obummer’s hands…….he appointed racist Holder to be attorney general. Truth hurts, don’t it?

    • Mike Kincaid

      Thank you for sharing your ignorance with Memphis. The election of President Obama had absolutely nothing to do with the murder of Larry Wilkins Jr. I knew Larry, Larry was my best friend, your lack of sensitivity is appalling.

  • Don

    How old is too old to be considered a juvenile?
    In my long lifetime I believe I have seen both young and old juveniles. I figure it kind of how they are raised and cared for. and treated by others. If the parents teaches a child what is right and wrong and don’t have a problem of teaching that the world owes anyone and they have to learn how to act so people will trust them, and teach them how to stand up for what is right. Then when they get to be 18 years old, most children act right and should have a better life, if they are taught what is right
    Now the ones who are taught that the world owes them, because they watch their parents do things like use drugs, and don’t have a home that does not have love there.
    Poor is no excuse.I was raised in a share cropper home that was dirt poor.
    I in later life I had 2 children and both are doing well. I followed construction and later on had my own business and hired a few people to help me, after about 25 years I retired.
    I have been Blessed.

    How old is too old to be considered a juvenile? I leave that to the judge.

  • Mike Kincaid

    This has to be one of the most ridiculous arguments ever. The three thugs who took it upon themselves to rob and kill Larry Wilkins Jr. absolutely deserve to be charged as adults. To be honest, they have far too many ” rights “, they should have the right to die by state execution. That is the ONLY right they should be entitled too. I knew Larry for 18 years, I considered him to be my best friend. What them animals did can not be justified by ANY defense attorney. Personally I want them to suffer, I want their family and friends to suffer. They cannot possibly have any idea of the pain that they have caused for a great many people who actually knew Larry. Larry had a heart as big as the city of Memphis. To know him was to love him. His personality was infectious, you could not help but to be drawn to him. People who never met Larry can never understand how great a loss his passing has been. To even suggest changing the juvenile age limit is an insult. People should consider this story BEFORE they go to the polls to cast their votes in this upcoming election. I personally could never vote for any candidate that would seriously entertain this proposal.

  • CJB

    If a juvenile does ADULT things, they should be treated as ADULTS. I don’t care how old they are….IJS

  • CJB

    And even if they raise the age bracket, they will still to learn to do better or be better. So, don’t raise the age….IJS

  • Gary

    I thought with all the education people get now days pre-k and all by the time they reach graduation age from school they have leaned enough to know what right from wrong . I think the Justice dept. is trying to make an excuse for criminals raising the age . By the time you are eighteen you can join the army and fight in wars ,all kinds of things you can do at eighteen they just trying to get lighter sentences for black people looks like to me ,making an excuse he just a juvenile at twenty four years old ,he didn’t know any better when he killed the person he was trying to rob. I don’t think this is going to fly.

  • YeahIwentthere

    this is just another end-round so that aspiring Trayvons wont be held responsible for their actions. This is absolutely sickening.

  • Julie

    Let me see if I understand the governments thinking on ability and accountability. In the federal government’s opinion, a young man of 18-24 is not capable of understanding the action of stealing a car or killing some one while a tween or teenage girl of 12 – 17 is capable of understanding and making the decision to have an abortion without having to discuss the idea with her parent/guardian.

  • Elwood Suggins

    Does this mean, if a 23 year old man gets a divorce and has two children he would not have to pay child support because he is a juvenile.

  • Vernon Jones

    Well like the killing increase , I was at church an south Memphis visiting my nephews and cousins, those criminals it already talking how to beat the system. I encourage them to think positive and productive about life. There will be more robberies and kills by youth to other blacks, this law give them the opportunities to kill and hurt more whites. It is big talk in the hood.

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