Sunday, February 17, 2013

Killer kids

One of the most difficult questions facing any society is what to do with children who commit serious crimes. It's a topic that has long been on my radar. I wrote a research paper on juvenile justice for my 9th grade English class. In law school, I did a summer internship at a public defender office working with juvenile defendants. Juvenile defense is something I could happily have dedicated myself to had my career path taken me there.

When cases come up like the Arizona case a few years ago in which an 8-year-old boy was accused of shooting his father or the one just last week in Washington where two 5th-graders are accused of plotting to kill a classmate, I pay attention. Honestly, these cases often make me glad my career path has taken me in a different direction because spending my days facing children in these impossible situations might be too much for me. I'm not sure we have a good answer for how to treat these children. Though I do know that prosecuting children as adults and throwing the book at them isn't the right answer.

In the state of Washington, children are prosecuted in the juvenile justice system between the ages of 12-18. Below the age of 12, children aren't prosecuted as a matter of course. Instead, they would be treated as children in need of care. The judge, though, has the opportunity to find that they have sufficient mental capacity to be tried in juvenile court. (I shudder to think that there are undoubtedly those who think they should be prosecutable in adult court.)

Apparently, the motive in this case is that the intended victim was rude and said mean things. One might extrapolate bullying from that, or it might be more generic 5th grade boys and girls hate each other stuff. I'm not sure motive counts much when we're talking about 11-year-olds. Between undeveloped reasoning skills and lack of impulse control, it just isn't fair to try to assess their actions in the same way we would with adults. It also isn't fair to punish them the same way.

Obviously, kids who carry guns around thinking they're going to kill a classmate need intervention. They need help, counseling, quite possibly a change in custody. But they don't need to be written off for the rest of their lives as if they're irredeemable. We do enough of that with people who have reached the voting age. Let's not start with kids who haven't even hit puberty yet.

No comments:

Blog Designed by : NW Designs