It’s a sad fact that kids are not only the victims of tragic violence in our country, but that they also are sometimes the perpetrators. We’ve all seen stories of children who gun down their classmates in the middle of a school day or attack their parents or act out in dangerous ways against siblings or peers on the neighborhood. Our justice system has long struggled with how to punish these youngest of offenders. At what age can a kid committing an adult act of violence be considered an adult himself? When is a child old enough for us to say she can spend the rest of her life in prison without the possibility of life outside bars, even if she is not yet old enough to drive?
Karen Franklin, PhD posted a sobering piece on her blog recently that examines the unique way in which the United States deals which juvenile criminals. Did you know that there are currently more than 2500 Americans serving life without parole for crimes that they committed before reaching the age of eighteen? There needs to be consequences in place for a violent act no matter the age of the assailant, to be sure, but it is stunning to imagine a young teenager who now will spend the next sixty years in jail.
The difficult topic of putting young people behind bars becomes even more complicated when you examine the backgrounds that the boys and girls bring to their violent acts. Most of them experienced high levels of violence in their home environments and, as Franklin points out, three-fourths of the girls serving life sentences had been victims of sexual abuse. These statistics are not meant to mitigate the horror of the violence that these teenagers did to land them a life sentence, but it does bring into question how we may better serve our children to prevent these crimes from occurring in the first place.
What are your thoughts on sentencing a juvenile to life in prison?
Does a fourteen-year-old who commits murder deserve to lose his freedom until his death, or do kids need to be considered differently in our courtrooms?
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