This week an eight year old boy shot and killed his father and a family friend. He has been charged with murder and the prosecutor hopes to try him as an adult. This is wrong on so many levels I do not know where to begin but I will find a way.
Children are not adults. That seems like a pretty obvious thing to say. It is the reason we treat them differently. We have laws to protect them from abusive families, from exploitation in the workplace and to keep them in school until they turn 16. We also treat them differently in terms of the rights we afford them. They cannot vote, drink, drive or join the military. Until very recently we treated them very differently when they commit crimes. The argument is often made that we if we let 18 year olds vote and die for their country we should allow them to drink. I don’t know if we should do that or not (though the US view on alcohol use is clearly, to me, draconian as in Europe where kids are allowed to drink much earlier the amount of binge drinking is lower but that is a subject for another day). Let’s assume that logic (if you can serve in the military you should be able to buy a beer) is valid. Armed with that, if you can be put to death or tried as an adult for murder then you should be able to drink, drive (not at the same time) and be afforded all the other rights normally given only to adults, right?
No. Again, children are not adults. The reasoning behind not giving them the rights and responsibilities of adulthood is simple; they lack the judgment, the ability to understand the consequences of their actions, their sense of right and wrong may not be developed and their brains are still developing. This is especially true to adolescents, for whom this is mainly appropriate because they are generally the kids who commit crimes for which they are tried as adults. Studies have shown that adolescent boys’ brains are very different from adults. They are prone to impulsive behavior. They do not think through what they are going to do and how that will affect them or others. That is the heart of what impulsiveness is. The impulse to act is followed by the act itself. When prosecutors say these kids need to be tried as adults to protect the public and send a signal it just proves that they miss the point, these kids aren’t thinking about what is going to happen immediately following most of the things they do (there is a reason car insurance is more expensive for teenage boys) much less what punishment they face. If they had the ability to think if I do this, I may be tried as an adult and then go to prison. Secondary to that is the fact that when we send kids to prison we change them into criminals. They may have committed a crime to get them there but the prison experience, during a formative period of their lives, never has the effects society wants. Prison is hard on adults but it is much worse for children who may be dealing with the experience of where they are but also being away from home for the first time. Many kids have problems going to camp, can you imagine how they would deal with an adult prison? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_development, just one site on this. There are better ones but you can find them yourselves).
Minors and the death penalty. I oppose the death penalty for anyone. Rarely do I see things as being black or white and think the world is more shades of grey but not in this instance. The death penalty is wrong. My main problems with it are that I do not believe we should give the state the right to kill people and I cannot get beyond how barbaric it is and the message it sends; killing people is wrong unless done by the government. For me this offers me an easy out when people want to debate when it should be used, because I don’t think it should ever be used. The idea of executing minors seems to bring the barbarity to an extreme. The safety net we have for children often fails. One of the leading causes of death among children is being killed by a family member. Maybe the more appropriate statistic is that if a child or woman is murdered, the most likely person to have been the culprit is a family member, spouse or significant other. We were all horrified when Susan Smith killed her children but she is not alone in doing this. I do not think past abuse excuses violence or criminal behavior but if those are not mitigating circumstances, what are?
Back on point, prosecutors around the country will cite the ‘heinous nature’ of certain crimes as reason enough to try minors as adults. I think that’s crap. If anything the worse the crime, the less the accused may have understood their actions. I repeat, children – be they 15 or eight, may not understand what their actions mean.
But in Arizona, we have a child who committed a terrible crime. He had been taught how to use guns by his family so they did not scare him. They do not know why he did this. There was no history of abuse. He had never been in trouble. In some states, like Florida, if a child takes the life of another person with a gun, the gun owner is responsible. I have to wonder if that applies here.
Regardless of what happens in Arizona, we really need to reevaluate our position on minors who commit crime. We also need to put more money into helping children before they resort to this. Far too many fall through the cracks and end up in untenable situations. We need to hold ourselves as accountable as we do them for whatever they do because they aren’t growing up on islands by themselves. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22055708/page/2/
I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.