“Incarceration of children should be a last resort”

The State of New York is moving in the right direction by making attempts to reduce incarceration of 16 and 17 year olds.  Currently New York is one of 2 states that allow children 16 years and older to be tried as adults.  Yes, I used the term “children.”  They ARE children.  Think about the decisions you were capable of making at that age.  Not the smartest choices I’m sure.  I know mine were deplorable.  Combine the age of a child who has a brain that is just beginning to engage in rational thought, as it comes to social interaction, with the introduction of alcohol, drugs or a negative environment, and you have the recipe for disaster.

As a criminal defense attorney, I have had several such defendants.  I always struggle with the gravity of their situation, and advocate strongly for the return of their case to juvenile court.  I am rarely successful.  The tough-on-crime era we live in lumps everyone into the same basket.  The interventions by courts to determine the true mental and emotional make-up of a child are sorely lacking.  The brain of a child is still forming.  Any 13 year old (or younger) who can think that it is a good idea to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, etc, can obviously think that any violent behavior might also be normal.

Many studies suggest that the brain isn’t fully formed until 25 years old.  We bombard kids with our own poor modeling (drinking to excess in front of them, using illicit drugs etc), violent video games, plus TV and movies portraying substance abuse and violence as appropriate, and then we expect them to behave as perfect law abiding citizens.  We never think about the full effect of our actions when it comes to kids.  They are sponges.  They want to be like us.  I’m not advocating a society of prudes, but rather a society that cares about it’s young – before they act out in ways we disapprove.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>