Showing posts with label over-sentencing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label over-sentencing. Show all posts

20 January 2013

Charged as an Adult

by Leigh Lundin

I write today's column as a matter of conscience. Friends who like labels find me hard to politically peg, but most issues boil down to common sense– What's right and what's wrong. A wrong that horrifies me is the practice of criminally charging children as adults.

Common wisdom says America's too soft on criminals. Common wisdom is wrong– the yoke of our punitive Puritans weighs heavily upon us. Although you may have read the US imprisons more of its population than the vast majority of nations, in the same category as Iran and North Korea, that's old news. The Guardian reports the US is now N° 1 when it comes to jailing its citizens. In more detail, according to The Economist, the USA has 5% of the world's population but incarcerates one fourth of all prisoners on the planet.

Contributing to this is a phenomenon called 'over-sentencing', like a three-strikes life term for stealing a bicycle. Parole boards, fearful of being dubbed weak or soft on crime, are loath to release offenders. Likewise Congress enacts ever harsher, more punitive legislation, capped with laws making it difficult to prove post-conviction actual innocence. And prisons are profitable– not for taxpayers, but for the newly emerging prison corporations.

Eating Their Young

kids in prison
© Reuters; 20Minutes.fr
America is nearly unique charging children as adults. Until the Supreme Court finally ruled against capital punishment of children, states used to execute kids, both boys and girls.

Prosecutors offer rationalizations: "[She] deserves to be tried as an adult for making an adult decision." "The more adult the crime, the more deserving the killer is of adult justice." Certainly heinous acts arouse the fury of the public, especially killing of another child. It's not easy to like or feel sympathy for a creature that kills a parent or the very young, merging into a society that's willing to discard what it considers mistakes… even when the mistakes are our own fault.

The problem is that youngsters are not adults. Children are not even close to mature given the arbitrary age of majority of 18, 21, or– as insurance companies insist 25. If anything, child criminals may be less mature than others their age, but that doesn't stop persecutors from trying children as adults, often opting for life without parole.

Treating Their Young


The recent case of Jordyn Howe has turned a tragedy into a triple heartbreak. The 15-year-old Florida boy showed off one of his family's .40 calibre automatics on his school bus. The weapon discharged, killing 13-year-old Lourdes Guzman-DeJesus. Weeks later, her distraught father Armando committed suicide.

Miami-Dade Detective Roy Rutland concluded the shooting was an accident. Those who know the slender, clean-cut youth contend he is a decent boy. but that isn't stopping prosecutors from charging the child as an adult, despite early assurances that wouldn't happen.

Can prosecutors ever justify trying children as adults? If so, for what offenses, what circumstances? Can 'bad seed' be saved or is society right to throw away the key with the child? What do you think?