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by Peter Moskos

July 7, 2009

The Idea of "Juvenile"

The state has an archaic system in which we operate under the misimpression that everyone under 18 can be rehabilitated for repeatedly committing violent crimes. We must find a way to provide rehabilitation, but also accountability and punishment.
That's kind of hardcore coming from, of all places, the office of Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy. Her office, as I write about in my book, is often at odds with police officers.

I'm not against the concept of "juvenile justice." I do think that kids who commit crimes should be treated differently than adults. But 17-year-olds? Especially when they're fathers, murderers, and drug dealers? They're no longer kids. I can't tell you how many times I had to treat an arrested 16 or 17-year-old as a "juvenile" only to find no adults who could or were willing to deal with this violent man anymore.

These so-called kids certainly don't see themselves as kids. They don't look like kids. They certainly don't play like kids. Why treat them like kids? How many times does somebody have to locked up for violent crimes before they're kept off the street and away from other?

Maybe lowering the adult age to 16 would be good start. Given the environments some kids grow up in, childhood is an unfortunately idealistic concept as best. But at some point, for some kids, we simply gotta put them away. If you disagree, and it's touching if you do, I recommend you go to the juvie home and work on adopting an unloved teenager. But whatever problems have developed need to be headed off long before the teen years.

The issue here is Lamont Davis. He's been arrested 15 times since he was ten. Lamont is a very bad boy. In the past year and a half since Davis has been in custody of juvenile services, he's been arrested and charged in five incidents. God only knows how many times he hurt people and didn't get caught.

Recently Davis yoked (robbed and beat) a woman. He was arrested and plead guilty on July 1st.

On July 2nd, soon after Davis cut off his home monitoring bracelet, a five-year-old girl apparently got in the path of one of his bullets. She may not make it. Two other guys were hit as well.

Justin Fenton has the story in the Sun.

Willie Bosket
comes to mind. I'm not a fan of prison. But some people need to be put away for a long time. I nominate Davis. And then let's come up with some ideas and be willing to spend some money to prevent such cases from happening again.

11 comments:

tim said...

I'm repeating myself here, but I maintain that it is a formal logic fallacy to argue concurrently that children ought to be charged as adults and that children ought not to have the same rights as adults.

This argument, of course, doesn't go far in a nation that does not extend "adults" the full rights of adulthood. There is no rational (syllogistic, I mean) argument for maintaining a drinking age of 21; as long as this discrepancy exists, trying to establish to people who haven't had the luxury of a 100-level philosophy class why a child does not acquire adult foresight through the commission of an irrational act will be a difficult feat.

This nation will not support lowering the drinking age to 16 in our lifetimes. The religious right is still too powerful. They aren't particularly fond of listening to reasoned, logic-based arguments. So as long as different loci of adulthood are codified, the idea that criminal 15-year-olds are more capable of understanding the consequences of their actions than a 15-year-old who wishes to vote will be perpetuated.

Marc S. said...

I went to comment and was pleased to see that Tim had written my response for me. Pretty much dead on. If you want to lower the adult age to 16, then 16 year olds should be free to vote, purchase, posses and carry firearms, purchase cigarettes, alcohol and (should they be legalized and regulated as LEAP would propose) all manner of drugs.

If you don't think that the vast majority of 16yo's can handle that level of responsibility, then there goes the argument.

As it stands now, the system is intolerable. Using prosecutorial discretion to decide who is and is not tried as an adult leads to certain types of people being disproportionately tried as such.

Tim, it's not just a problem with the religious right. The left in this country will just as quickly come down against any type of reform.

PCM said...

I think the problem is with ideologues on both sides. But I do think prohibition today is more of a crusade of the right.

But lefties are also for prohibition. Prostitution and porn come to mind. And historically the prohibitionists have been the liberal "Progressives." Maybe J. Edgar Hoover changed that in the 1950s. I'm not certain.

Europe generally has a 16-year-old drinking age. At least for beer. And Americans start drinking at 16. I did at 15.

In fact, my first felony might have been at age 18, knowingly obtaining a real Illinois driver's license with my picture and somebody else's information for the purpose of obtaining alcohol. It worked like a charm. And I looked young for my age.

I would guess that 75% of all kids start drinking between 15 and 17. So *that* prohibition certainly isn't working. So yes, I'd prefer it regulated and kids learning to drink weak booze with older people than pounding the bottle of cheap vodka you got from the one liquor store that would sell to you.

And though the thought of a 16-year-old doing everything scares me (and I'm not even a father), the fact is that 16 year olds already *are* doing everything. So yes, I guess, better to regulate and control that provide the false illusion of prohibition.

Regardless, I don't think it's contradictory to say that you are responsible for your actions as a 16-year-old but are still not entrusted with the privileges of citizenship, like voting (or driving, or possessing firearms). At 16 you might be adult, but these are privileges, not rights. You haven't earned that yet.

A 16 year old might be an adult in terms of understanding right from wrong and old enough to accept the consequences of his or her actions, but that doesn't he or she is a responsible adult.

And I can't help but think it's dumb to have kids (or adults) learn to drink and learn to drive at the same age. I'd be happy to lower the drinking age to 16 and raise the driving age (something we actually can control pretty well) to 18.

Marc S. said...

"A 16 year old might be an adult in terms of understanding right from wrong and old enough to accept the consequences of his or her actions, but that doesn't he or she is a responsible adult."

Isn't responsibility, by definition, accepting the consequences of ones actions? If someone can accept the consequences of ones own actions, aren't they, in fact, responsible?

There's plenty of evidence out there showing that people in that age range tend to take lots of unnecessary risks. This is due to the fact that there is a psychological disconnect between actions and consequences at that level of maturity.

Anonymous said...

Tim,

Sorry, it is simply NOT "a formal logic fallacy to argue concurrently that children ought to be charged as adults and that children ought not to have the same rights as adults."

As long as these juvelines have the same rights in the justice system that adults have relevant to the court proceedings at hand, the needs of justice are met.

Some people can drive, others can't, some can vote, others can't, some drink, others can't, etc. There are very few meaningful rights that adults have that juveniles don't, and they have all the important ones, and any ones that an adult has for trial when they are tried as adults, so there is nothing wrong with doing this as fit.

It is wierd and shortsighted to use a blanket law about the drinking age to defend a blanket law about criminal responsibility. If both are unjust, but we can only fix one at present, then we will have an obligation to fix that one.

By your logic, it would be wrong to make marijuana legal if E would remain illegal. Now that's a logical fallacy, my friend.

Please, look up the definition of formal and informal fallacies, neither of which apply to this argument.

PCM said...

Well I'll be damned if I could tell you the difference. So I did look it up.

This site seems as good as any:
http://www.logicalfallacies.info/

Sergeant T said...

I know this is probably anathema to legal philosophy, but instead of applying the labels Adult and Juvenile how about we simply place a burden on people to "do no harm". That way when PCM acquires his fake ID or cracks open a beer at 16 we can treat him like a juvenile. When John Q. Thug beats up an old lady at 16 we treat him like an adult. Mala prohibitum vs. mala in se. Reasonable people have no problem making and living with this distinction. The legal system can't seem to comprehend it. The cold, soulless reply to bleeding victims is a litany of reasons why the legal system simply can't do it.

In Georgia 17 is considered an adult. It really doesn't change much. Because juvenile records are sealed the law considers them virgins at 17 and a day. All but the most atrocious crimes are given a first offender passes. It made us feel a whole lot better taking them to adult jail vs. juvenile. That warm feeling usually faded when they were back on the street before our report was done. The only real benefit ever noticed is that it starts the criminal history clock earlier on career criminals. Age is absolutely irrelevant if the legal system won't hold them accountable for their actions.

PCM said...

"Mala prohibitum vs. mala in se. Reasonable people have no problem making and living with this distinction. The legal system can't seem to comprehend it."

Excellent point.

Excellent comment.

PCM said...

This is from the comment section of a New York Times article about charging a mother who left her 12-year-old in charge of her other kids at a mall.

It's from a person in China. It makes some good points:

If this situation represents ‘child abandonment’, then I was a well paid 11 year old in a lot of ‘child abandonment’ situations. As a summer babysitter, I went to movies, parks, malls, and pools with my young charges.

I think this is a more acceptable form of the backlash associated with the ‘infantization’ of American children. In this case, we blame the mother, when in reality it is the 12 year olds who misbehaved and ‘abandoned’ their charges.

Over most of the world, a twelve year old is mature enough to take care of herself, her siblings and family. American 12 year olds would be no different if it weren’t for the lowered expectations of our society.

Treat them like adults, and they will become adults. Give them responsibility, and they will be responsible. Not every time, but in the times that they are not, isn’t it the role of a parent to come in and correct that behavior. Because of legal intervention like this, I am very concerned for what the next generation of ‘adults’ will act like in America.

— LG - Beijing China

tim said...

Anonymous conveniently ignores half of my argument in order to make me look the fool. Oh well. I'll iterate:

If you deny the rights of adulthood to another class of people simply based on their age, you cannot ignore that age when determining whether or not they acted with the mindset of an adult when committing a crime.

In other words, you cannot call the commission of a heinous crime a more rational act (and thus one with a more forseeable consequence path) than the commission of an act forbidden by law based on age (voting, smoking, drinking, having sex).

The warrant used to bolster the claim of one is contradicted by the backing to the warrant of the claim of the other, to use Toulmin's words. And that's why it's fallacious.

Anonymous said...

Tim, it is still not a formal logical fallacy. That's off the table for debate.

You state "If you deny the rights of adulthood to another class of people simply based on their age, you cannot ignore that age when determining whether or not they acted with the mindset of an adult when committing a crime."

Your premise is that age markers must, for some reason, be uniform in the distribution and curtailment of rights. This is just an incorrect argument.

Let's say that we don't let you smoke until you're 18 because, although we freely admit that's a grossly imperfect delineation, the stakes are low enough and the harms on either side of the transgression are small enough that such a crude measure is broadly satisfactory. It's just smoking (or drinking, etc.)

Now when we get to serious crimes, we recognize the issue is so grave and so important that we decline to use broad age markers as a means for determining how to treat juveniles, because they miscarry justice in big, serious ways no matter how practical they would be.

In sum, when the stakes are low, we can be aribtrary because it is immensely practical and little is at stake, and when the stakes are high, we should abandon abritrary lines no matter how practical they may be.

Now, in this vein, I would be happy to institute some sort of civics test in lieu of a voting age. This is part and parcel with my feeling that we should be able to charge kids as adults when they do certain things, such as commit rapes or kill their parents for being too strict. But I will be happy to see one changed, then the other, and will not say something as silly as I will only accept all the changes at once.