Giving Kids the Space To Grow
The issue of trying juveniles in adult court is claiming the attention of both politicians and the general public these days. The brouhaha is being fueled by the high profile case
of the “affluenza kid” the boy who ,when still 16 years-old, killed four people while drunk driving , yet managed to escape a lengthy prison sentence, by claiming his wealthy parents had never taught him the difference between right and wrong.
Predictably the old familiar cry went out from the tough on juvenile crime folks, “This is outrageous, if he’s old enough to do the crime, he’s old enough to do the time.”
By that logic, if a kid is old enough to shoot a gun, he is old enough to enlist in the army; if he is old enough to produce sperm, he is old enough to raise a family.
The juvenile court system was built on the very reasonable premise that children are not adults and that they should not be treated as adults. We don’t allow liquor to be sold to 14 year-olds because, they don’t have the maturity to handle it.
Yet, there seems to be a lot of people comfortable with a legal process that allows us to judge a kid who commits a felony to be tried in adult court. And tried by whom, by the way? A jury of their peers? We wouldn’t dream of allowing kids to serve on a jury. But they can sure be tried, before a jury as though they were adults.
You know something? It’s time we regained the common sense we were born with and start by recalling some of the stupid stuff we did as teens.
I firmly believe that our actions have consequences. If a kid commit a crime, he should be punished for it. That’ fair and just. But don’t ignore the fact that it is a kid who did the deed. Any parent will tell you, kids are works in progress.
Recently I talked to a 17 year-old boy in Juvenile Hall who was reflecting on how he had changed since he was arrested for a crime he had committed when he was 15. I had to smile when he commented on the “immature” 14 and 15 year olds he was living with at juvie. “Man, these kids are so young; they cause most of the trouble around here because they haven’t grown up.”
Good point. Kids grow up; given half a chance, they change as they mature. Trying them as though they are adults and sending them to adult prisons takes away that second chance we owe them.