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Is 17 Old Enough?

By: Chelsea Davis-Bibb, M.Ed.


I was watching the news when I saw a report regarding a young Black teen who is 17 years old and will face trial as an adult. He has been charged with capital murder alleging that he killed both of his parents back in July of last year. It is believed that he shot both of his parents while they were sleeping, and then tried to cover it up by starting a fire. If he is convicted, he faces life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years. If he does get convicted, that means he will be 57 years old before he could receive any chances of getting out. This has been a controversial topic for a long time, and the question still stands: Should a 17 year old teenager be tried as an adult?


According to Campaign For Youth Justice, An estimated 250,000 youth are tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults every year across the United States.” In addition, “On any given night in America, 10,000 children are held in adult jails and prisons.” When youth are housed in adult prisons, it is hard to keep them safe, and many eventually suffer mentally from being locked up with adults. According to Children in Adult Prisons, “Children are up to 36 times more likely to commit suicide after being housed in an adult jail or prison than children incarcerated in juvenile facilities.”


In a recent conversation with Captain Kevin Williams, who is the captain over the juvenile department in Harris County Constable’s Office Precinct 1 under Constable Rosen, believes that kids who are 17 should be tried as an adult. He stated, “I think we were born and created with something called a conscience…and if we ignore our conscience then we can run into problems…there’s a little voice in all of us.” He further stated, “At 17, you’re able to make a conscience decision on what’s right and wrong.” He also elaborated on the fact that if a child is mentally unstable, then the courts can decide on how to proceed, but other than that, he feels that at 17, teenagers are able to make their own decisions and should be held accountable for them.


As much as it breaks my heart, I have to agree with Captain Williams. It is very sad to see any teen, black or white to have to give their life to the system, but as the cliché saying goes, “If you do the crime, then you have to do the time.” So, how can we save our youth from making these types of mistakes? At 17, I remember times that I was upset with friends, or even mad about something my parents did or said, but murdering them or anyone in that matter never crossed my mind. Our young kids are going to make mistakes, but we have to try our best to help prevent the mistakes that could cost them their lives.


Simple Ways We Can Help Our Youth:


  1. Communication-be there for them with an open mind so that they can be free to discuss any issues that they are facing. You may not agree with them, but you need to be there for them. Our young teens are faced with so much, and sometimes they may feel alone as if no one cares. If we communicate with them, we might be able to help tackle some of the issues before they become a more serious matter.
  2. Identify suspicious behavior– if their behavior change, don’t ignore it and think they are having a bad day. Speak up and lend a helping hand. It’s better to be observant and wrong, rather than have something happen that could have easily been avoided if you had spoken up.
  3. Limit exposure of time to social media– although this is not an issue for all teens, but social media does cause people to have a lot of mental and emotional issues such as depression, and loneliness. If we can limit our children’ exposure to social media, this might could help with issues of depression and feeling alone. These feelings alone can lead to other behaviors that may be hard to control in the long run.
  4. Encourage involvement in civic, community, and educational activities/organizations- our youth need to be involved in different activities. Keeping them active won’t give them a lot of room to make bad decisions. It will also teach them skills that will help them in their adult life.
  5. Accept them for who they are– often times, we want to change people, but in reality, we have to accept a child for who they are. We have to embrace their uniqueness and find ways to meet them on their level in order to reach and guide them in the right path.


In the case of the young teen who will appear in court on April 17th, my prayers are with him and his family. My prayers are also with our youth who are battling the pressures from everyday life. This society isn’t an easy one to live in, and if our youth have no support, it can be even harder to live in. I encourage everyone to reach out to our youth. Let them know that whatever they are dealing with, they can come out of it. Most importantly, never give up on them!