“Adult time for adult crime”

In St. Johns, Arizona, an eight year old boy shot and killed his father and a boarder with a .22 caliber rifle. This is what the local police determined after interviewing the child without an adult family member present or an attorney. Nor was the boy advised of his legal rights. Under Arizona law the boy can be charged as an adult since he is eight years old. The prosecutor is asking to have the boy tried as an adult!

In our colonial days, both America and England frequently treated children as adults at the age of 14, on occasion, the option existed to charge an 8 year old child as an adult. If you remember your history classes, you will recall that children and adults could be imprisoned for stealing bread to stave off hunger. Such crimes and punishments were frequent among the poor of that era.

In America, we began to develop a more socially conscientious view on crime and punishment for children and adolescents in the early 1900’s. The juvenile justice system was developed to deal with crimes committed by children below 18. There was an acceptance of sorts that it might be better to try to rehabilitate youthful offenders. It was hoped that this process would redirect child “criminals” from a life of crime.

However, over the years, as we all aware, violent crimes committed by children has increased. Most of the most violent crimes are related, non exclusively, to drugs. I did a great deal of research on child crimes and punishments. I read a great deal about the failures of the Family Courts and Juvenile Courts Systems. I also read a great deal about the trend, referred to as “panic based,” toward the attitude of “adult time for adult crime!” While everything I read agreed that many of the current trends to adjudicate child “criminals” to the adult court and penal system was based on public “panic”  and backlash, the lawmakers continued to rewrite legislation that followed the principle,  “adult time for adult crime” long after public outcry lost its frenzy!

…The upshot of this reform movement is that the mantra “adult time for adult crime” has become a reality for many young offenders. Through a variety of initiatives, the boundary of childhood has shifted dramatically in a relatively short time, so that youths who are legal minors for every other purpose are adults when it comes to their criminal conduct.

Many psychologists, social workers, and doctors feel that testing, evaluations, and studies on the specific backgrounds of these children ought to have more weight on whether or not a child should be adjudicated to the adult court system. But, that brings up another issue of contention, should children convicted of violent crimes be placed in adult facilities?

But I am awed that in all my research, nowhere did I find any reference to what I see as a primary reason for the rise violent crimes committed by children in the area with the most significant increase, drug related crimes. In my hometown in Virginia, we have a major drug problem like many other major cities. But, we also have another problem which seldom is addressed. Why? Don’t misunderstand me, there are plenty willing to come forward in local and state governments to place blame on family home life, social environment, as in racial due to the “projects,” and the rise in the number if illegal aliens we now have here.

But what no one will address is the startling amount of drug use and “trafficking” done in our school system or the “good or up-scale” neighborhoods.  I once had a teacher tell me he could be fired for telling me the local government and school board did not allow teachers to admit publicly there was a problem with drugs in our county or school system because people would not want to move into “our area” and that would affect the tax base! Any person can walk through our local schools, especially at lunch time, and see as I have personally seen, drug dealing in the halls of our schools out in the open without recrimination!

Several years ago, I found out that a young boy had LSD he was selling to kids in and out of school. I went to the schools involved and the local police and gave them this information. I was reassured that proper action would be taken to handle the situation. A year later the boy killed himself. He and two other kids skipped school to “do drugs” and hang out. The boy was killed while on LSD playing “Russian Roulette!” I went back to the schools involved and told them that both they and I could have prevented that death had I followed up on the schools’ promises to do something and had the schools and police followed through on the information I gave them. I regret to this day I did not hound both the schools and the police!

I know why the school wasn’t more responsive. As stated above, the image of our school system had to be maintained at all costs.  A cost I consider too high! But, what about the police? This is another issue, yet, the underlying root cause is still the same, politics and economics! Police arrest juveniles and the court system slaps their hands and lets them go. After a while the police play a waiting game, when the “perp” is eighteen we can then “put him/her” away!

This brings me to probably one of the most important reasons for the rise in child criminal violence, especially in drug related cases. Most states, like mine, enacted tough drug laws for adult offenders. Whether the adult drug dealers be gang related or non-gang related [in most cases], the new stiff penalties for adult offenders forced adult, drug related criminals, to look for another means of selling their drugs. They needed a new “market” too! They found one due to the current juvenile justice and court systems, children under the age of eighteen.

In an ever increasing number, drug dealers have targeted our children, both in poorer neighborhoods and more affluent ones, and used them to sell drugs. They have encouraged our kids to sell to their peers at school and in their local neighborhoods.  In alarming rates, kids, high school age, and now even in our elementary schools are selling and/or using drugs. These kids were “used” until they turned eighteen because they wouldn’t be sent to jail. They would get “counseling,” or some other lesser sentence and be right back on the streets dealing and using! As the adjudication of children to the adult court system occurs at lower and lower ages occurs, these adult criminals move on to the next generation of child dealers and users, just below the current adjudication age!

Granted, we have “DARE,” in schools to teach kids about the dangers legally and physically in drug use. We also have “drug free” school zones where drug related offenses have stiffer sentences. But, peer pressure and the open use and sale of drugs in our schools gives these kids a double message, drugs are bad, but “we,” the school system, refuse to openly acknowledge its rampant use at school! My son, an excellent athlete in several sports, refused to participate on school sports due to the high incident of drugs by players in the school athletic sports! Both my kids from middle school through high school continuously talked about the sale and/or use of drugs at their school.

Like most parents, I didn’t believe my kids when they told me how bad the drug problem at school really was because I thought kids are so intense and often things they talk about will sound more ominous than reality. But, I also knew my kids, so I went to school at lunch time and saw for myself everything they said was true.

I don’t know why this young boy in Arizona killed his father and that boarder. None of us will know for certain for some time. There are previous reports of domestic violence calls to the residence which are being investigated. Certainly domestic violence causes traumatic emotional and psychological damage to children. The prevalence of drugs in our schools, dysfunctional homes, environmental issues, all affect our kids. They grow-up with no coping skills, no conception of consequences for actions or behavior, no moral foundation, no religious foundation, no sense of community, national pride, or many of the values once taught to kids.

Is it any wonder kids become violent or commit violent crimes at lower and lower ages? At times it seems to me kids are being brought up as “feral” in a “household!” They only have the instinct of survival at all costs as their driving force because they have been given and taught nothing else!! If there is drug abuse and alcohol in the home or other types of extreme abuse, more and more kids are going to become violent. For many kids, the attention of the local drug dealer, the subsequent role they begin to play in that dealers business, provides these kids with the only sense of self empowerment they have ever felt!

The negligence of the local governments, school systems, and court systems to properly deal with these issues leave these kids “unprotected” and “ready for victimization” by predators of every ilk with no way to turn for help! I  am a firm believer of teaching kids every action, decision, or deed has a consequence. If all kids could get this message and have it re-enforced, I think crimes committed by children would drop dramatically.    I also accept that there are rare instances where some kids and people are truly evil and nothing would have prevented this reality.

But, certainly we can do a better job in our court system and mental health system to help those kids at risk while holding them accountable with consequences for their actions based on their ability to understand and reason! What does it say of our society when we treat kids as children in every aspect except in the court system or criminal justice system where they can be treated as adults because we adults have abdicated our responsibilities to these kids?

Source: “The Future of Children,” page 3, [Princeton, Brookings]


~ by devildog6771 on November 19, 2008.

3 Responses to ““Adult time for adult crime””

  1. That is crazy that a child so young would do something like that. Its even crazier that they would charge a kid like that as an adult. At that young of an age, a kid can still be totally rehabilitated and changed.

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  2. I’m with you! We owe it to our kids to at least make a legitimate attempt to rehabilitate these kids!

  3. It’s really shocking to know this kind of news about minors involved in a crime. For me, it’s better to have them rehabilitate than to put in jail, so they can undergo psychological treatment and hopefully can start a new life.

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