Rethinking juvenile justice

One of my pet peeves is the way we treat children who commit crimes. For some reason, we treat them more harshly than we do adults. We feel compelled sentence them to long sentences, long mandatory minimums, and sentences with no possibility of parole. We like to charge them as adults, the younger the better, and inexplicably place children in prison with adults.

More bizarre is that we allow this to occur despite knowing what could happen to these kids. It makes no sense for us to charge 8-year-olds as adults. It makes no sense for us to imprison a 14-year-old to life without the possibility of parole. It makes even less sense to lock them in solitary confinement or sentence them to death.

The latter the Supreme Court addressed several years ago. They banned juvenile executions in 2005. However, life without parole still remained in place. Now they have struck that down as well, and made the ban retroactive:

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a Louisiana man sentenced to life without parole some 50 years ago for a murder committed as a 17-year-old juvenile has a right to have his sentence reviewed.

In a 6-3 opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court said that its 2012 ruling that banned mandatory sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders applies retroactively, because it represents a new substantive rule.

Lawyers for both sides believe the ruling could affect at least 1,000 similarly situated inmates across the country.

The case was brought by Henry Montgomery, 69, who has been serving a life-without-parole sentence that he received in 1963 as a juvenile for the murder of Sheriff Deputy Charles Hurt in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He had asked the justices to take a case decided four years ago called Miller v. Alabama and apply it to his case, even though he committed his crime well before that ruling. In Miller, the court held that mandatory sentences of life without parole for juvenile homicide offenders violate the Constitution.

The court’s ruling Monday does not overturn Montgomery’s conviction, but it allows him either a new sentencing hearing or a new parole hearing.

Justice Kennedy stated of the decision:

“Children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing” because they have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform, Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion.

Kennedy said that Montgomery has spent “each day of the past 46 years” knowing he was condemned to die in prison. “Perhaps it can be established that, due to exceptional circumstances, this fate was a just and proportionate punishment for the crime he committed as a 17 year old boy,” Kennedy said. But he added that prisoners like Montgomery “must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.

“Allowing those offenders to be considered for parole ensures that juveniles whose crimes reflected only transient immaturity — and who have since matured — will not be forced to serve a disproportionate sentence in violation of the Eighth Amendment,” Kennedy wrote.

The “46 years” part is the problem. Who does that serve? Who does that help? Montgomery has spent two-thirds of his life in prison. Is that not enough? If we release him, he will have no idea how to function in our society. He has literally grown up in prison, and chances are he will suffer from a host of mental issues as a result of trying to cope with the switch. Is that not sufficient suffering? What purpose does it serve to hold him for something he did 46 years ago?

I agree with Kennedy that inmates like Montgomery should be given the chance to show they have changed. Is that not the point of prison? Is it not to reform, not just seek vengeance?

Speaking of vengeance, President Barack Obama wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post detailing his decision to ban the solitary confinement of juveniles:

That’s why last summer, I directed Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and the Justice Department to review the overuse of solitary confinement across U.S. prisons. They found that there are circumstances when solitary is a necessary tool, such as when certain prisoners must be isolated for their own protection or in order to protect staff and other inmates. In those cases, the practice should be limited, applied with constraints and used only as a measure of last resort. They have identified common-sense principles that should guide the use of solitary confinement in our criminal justice system.

The Justice Department has completed its review, and I am adopting its recommendations to reform the federal prison system. These include banning solitary confinement for juveniles and as a response to low-level infractions, expanding treatment for the mentally ill and increasing the amount of time inmates in solitary can spend outside of their cells. These steps will affect some 10,000 federal prisoners held in solitary confinement — and hopefully serve as a model for state and local corrections systems. And I will direct all relevant federal agencies to review these principles and report back to me with a plan to address their use of solitary confinement.

Let us make this simple: if you found out that a parent would lock their child in a basement for days at a time as punishment or “to keep them safe” would you support it? Or would you consider that abuse?

This is no different. It is one thing to place someone by themselves to allow them time to calm down. It is another to do it as a form punishment or “safety” because we know that solitary confinement has a clear detrimental effect on a person’s mental state. Adults cannot handle it for very long, so why would we do this to a child?

I am sure there will be people who disagree with these decisions. They are welcome to that opinion, although I think their opinion is wrong on ethical, moral, and common sense ground. We do things to children we would not tolerate (much) if done to adults. How we treat children who commit crimes is the best example of this double standard. It is also a double double standard because any parent if committed these acts we would call it abuse and torture and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.

Therein lies the horrific irony: many of the prosecutors and judges and officials that treat children this way are also the same ones going after other adults who do the same things to children in their care. It is as if the our government only thinks child abuse, torture, and rape is wrong when other people do it.

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12 thoughts on “Rethinking juvenile justice

  1. Pingback: Rethinking juvenile justice – Manosphere.com

  2. “Is that not the point of prison? Is it not to reform, not just seek vengeance?”

    Sometimes it is. Sometimes the point of prison is simply to warehouse people who cannot be trusted to walk around free. A 17-year-old murderer who necessarily will have to spend their 20s in prison will never have anything worthwhile to contribute to society, rare exceptions notwithstanding.

  3. Agreed with Paul Murray. We should save our rehabilitation efforts for small-time, non-violent offenders. Murderers? Lock ’em away and throw away the key; and when you’re a teenager you ARE old enough to know “murdering someone is wrong.” The only reason I’m against the death penalty or torture is the possibility of inflicting them on an innocent person. But when the facts of the case are not in dispute, let them rot.

  4. The point of prison, when prison was originally invented, was not to reform… but if we want to progress as a society we should strive to allow reform to make permanent incarceration obsolete.

    Sort of like how we don’t cut off people’s hands for stealing anymore. By today’s standards, barbaric. But prior to the invention of secure prisons and effective criminal record keeping, that may have been the only way to prevent a thief from just moving one town over and going right back to stealing. It isn’t anymore.

  5. A 17-year-old murderer who necessarily will have to spend their 20s in prison will never have anything worthwhile to contribute to society, rare exceptions notwithstanding.

    How do you know this? Most people do not contribute anything worthwhile to society, so how would this be any different? Why would it be okay to release someone who repeatedly steals versus someone who killed one person for a very specific set of reasons?

  6. Andy:

    We should save our rehabilitation efforts for small-time, non-violent offenders. Murderers? Lock ’em away and throw away the key; and when you’re a teenager you ARE old enough to know “murdering someone is wrong.”

    Should not the non-violent offender also know that committing their crime is also wrong? Why have a different set of standards that is so extreme?

    The only reason I’m against the death penalty or torture is the possibility of inflicting them on an innocent person. But when the facts of the case are not in dispute, let them rot.

    For how long? If you say for life, then what happens when the person reaches the point where they are genuine sorry for what they have done and make an effort to change their ways? Are we to ignore that? If so, then what is the point of keeping them alive? Why inflict that on them?

    I ask this because many people like you and Paul who take the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” approach do not seem to consider these possibilities. Obviously there will be people who lack any remorse. There will also be people who feign it in the beginning and later are genuinely remorseful. There will also be those who are sorry from the very moment they commit the act. Are we not to consider that?

  7. I don’t understand your moral/ethical or indeed practical reasoning here, Toysoldiers.

    We are talking MURDER here -not something complex about consent under a “Yes Means Yes” criminal statute or some obscure regulatory law.

    Far as I’m concerned if we ban the death penalty for minors (which we do, now, no matter how many hours they may literally be from “Magic” 18) for whatever or however preplanned or heinous a crime then we are ALREADY giving them a break that adults do not get. Do you really think someone like the two ‘minors’ who committed Columbine have anything positive to give to society or would be any less dangerous if we let them out at some point(hypothetically, assuming they had survived of course)?

    I believe 12 year olds are capable of First Degree murder (we should give them extra breaks due to stupidity and age when it comes to 2nd/3rd) – which means they are capable of plotting the crime and knowing it is wrong. I’m certainly even more convinced that 17 year olds know murder is wrong. Because they know it is wrong, yet do it anyway, and it is the one crime that has NO possible restitution for the victim, I’m not adverse to locking 12 to 17 year olds up for life for this particular crime. In the vast majority of cases, society will NOT miss these murderers, indeed its possible society will be safer with them behind bars.

    You must have your reasons for denying adolescents /young adults (despite the legal ‘minor’ language these are not children, strictly speaking) agency and you must also have some reason for denying society a degree of safety when it comes to murders by those in this age category, but darn if I can see what they are, esp since most of our current laws go against historic practice, and in some cases, I’d even argue go against human development and surely you must agree that our AOC (for various things, not just sex) are basically arbitrary anyway. 21 to drink? Who pulled that out of their ass?

  8. Do you really think someone like the two ‘minors’ who committed Columbine have anything positive to give to society or would be any less dangerous if we let them out at some point(hypothetically, assuming they had survived of course)?

    I do not know, which is part of the reason why we should not simply lock them up and forget about them. People change, especially from childhood to adulthood. It is possible that someone could reform from the time they are 12 to the time they are 35. To say they should remain locked up for something they did as a child without considering whether they have changed defeats the purpose of rehabilitation. At that point, it is merely about punishing and revenge. What it is the point of their remorse if our collective response is, “Good. You should suffer. Now stay in prison until you die.”?

    I believe 12 year olds are capable of First Degree murder (we should give them extra breaks due to stupidity and age when it comes to 2nd/3rd) – which means they are capable of plotting the crime and knowing it is wrong.

    It is not merely a case of the child knowing it is wrong. This is no different than saying whether a child can consent to sex. A child can absolutely intend and want to have sex and give their “yes”. The issue is whether they understand the consequences of their actions, what motivated their actions, and their ability to change. In most cases, children simply do not understand things on that level. A 17-year-old certainly can, yet it still warrants the question of whether it is fair to keep a 50-year-old in prison for something they did at 17.

    You must have your reasons for denying adolescents /young adults (despite the legal ‘minor’ language these are not children, strictly speaking) agency

    I am not denying their agency. I am suggesting that people change. The actions and thoughts that a person engaged in at 12 or 17 may change by the time they become 35 or 40. It makes no sense to hold someone continuously accountable for an act they committed as a child, particularly when they have reformed their behavior. I do not limit this to children, by the way. I think this should apply to adults. People do change, so I think that unless we can show that someone is a continued risk, it makes little sense to keep them locked up forever.

    and you must also have some reason for denying society a degree of safety when it comes to murders by those in this age category

    That would be true if I advocated never locking up any children. My argument is against holding them indefinitely, particularly when they were very young when they committed the crime. Again, people change, and I think that should factor into whether someone remains imprisoned.

    esp since most of our current laws go against historic practice, and in some cases, I’d even argue go against human development and surely you must agree that our AOC (for various things, not just sex) are basically arbitrary anyway.

    Given that our prior position on these matters was to kill children accused of or who were victims of violent crimes, I think it would be unwise to simply follow human development. We should consider what we know about how people development instead of assuming that whenever a child kills someone the best course of action is to ignore the circumstances of the case, lock them away in an adult prison, and forget about them.

  9. Pingback: Rethinking juvenile justice – Manosphere.org

  10. About murder… Should I murder two very specific people, the girl who raped me and her accomplice, would you guys want to lock me away forever or reform me (which would be as easy as making sure I would never be raped again thus never seeking revenge again)?

  11. Elisa, I do not agree with indefinite sentences, so the sentence length would depend on the context of the killing. If you happened upon then and killed them in the moment due to rage or some other emotion, I think a lesser sentence would be fair. If you plotted to murder them, then I think a long sentence would be fair despite understanding your motivation.

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