Friday, February 11, 2011


     I came across an article that made my blood boil and made me question just how far we have come as a society.As you can guess from the title of this post that it deals with children.The treatment of children that we will get into shortly, is enought to raise your blood pressure,but what drove me up the wall was the oblivious assumption that this treatment is based on. What also caused me to raise an eyebrow,was the fact that of all the nations in the world and in the United Nations, only the United States and Somalia have refused to sign on to a particular policy. This policy is Article 37 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.Wondering just what was it that the United States found so objectionable in Article 37,I went online and read what it said. Now this article prohibits the detention of children except as a last resort and for the shortest appropiate period of time. It also prohibits the toture & other creul,inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.Of course this part dealt with the treatment of refugee's. Then in the section on the rights of children,it states that children are to be protected from child abuse,neglect,exploitation cruelty and abuse in the criminal justice system.After reading the whole document, I could see how some of the language in the section could raise concern that it would require  the United States to forego some of it's sovereignty.But to be in lockstep with Somalia,that is a little to much.
     Now here is a fact about the state of the juvenlie justice system in the United States. We are the only nation on the planet that allows children under the age of 18 to be sentence to life in prison without the possissibility of parole. At the present time there are 2,574 children serving this sentence for crimes committed before the age of 18. We as a society have said that they are basically throwaway kids and the only thing they will know is the inside of a prison.This seems to fly in the face of what we know is fact in the development of a child's brain,and decision making skills.Let me give you a brief overview on how the juvenlie justice system came about and developed in this country.
    Before 1900 children who were convicted of crimes were sent to prison with adults.Then with the beginning of the progessive era between 1900-1918,the states began establishing youth reforms that embelished the idea that society had the responsibilty to help children recover from what was seem as poor upbringing, so that the state was in fact acting in "parens patriae" or as the parent or guardian of the child.Thus was born the juvenlie justice system that was basically a civil court rather than a criminal one.If it was decided that the child needed to be locked up in order to receive treatment, the confindment only lasted until 21 at the latest.Then in 1967 & 1969 the Surpreme Court said that juvenlie's were entitled to due process under the 5th and 14th admenment of the Consitution. So juvenile court stated to take on a criminal justice look.With a steep rise in juvenlie crime in the late 1980's and the mid 1990's the public started taking notice of juvenlie crimes. Then a series of school shootings and other horrendous offenses cause the public to fear a new breed of juvenlie superpredators was being born. To combat this states begin lowering the age in which juvenlie's could be tried as adults.Some states lowered the age to as low as 10 years.And with the mandatory sentenceing laws,the judges had no choice but to sentence any child who was convited to life in prison without the possibility of parole.The perfect storm for the juvenlie justice system.
     Can you spot the flaw in the assumptions that the juvenlie justice system is operating under.It easy,the assumption is that the child is fully functioning and can make decisions based on the full knowledge of what society expects. However science has shown us that a child's brain is not fully developed,nor is their impluse control.Since we know that this is true how can we expect them to act like adults. kids kill for a variety of reasons,including prolong emotional or physical/sexual abuse,brain damage or mental illiness received from drug addicated mothers.
     Charles Manson,"Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz were sentence to life in prison but with the possibility of parole.If we can give killers like this the hope of freedom,how can we say a child killer cannot be saved.There are kids that society needs to be protected from,but at the same time we must administer to the needs of our kids.I know what I believe,but the question is what do you believe?


  1. I am constantly bemused by the way the mental health people view children. My own psychologist tells me that the don't view children under 6 as being depressed. Catagorising is dangerous. I think more time should be spent with kids, both inside and outside the criminal justice system, working with them to understand their motivations and communicating their feelings effectively. So many kids get branded when they 'act out' yet no attempt seems to be made to find out why. A young lad who lives near me who is in trouble a lot at the moment. Last year his mum and dad had a falling out and his dad went off with another woman. The boy in question looked after his mum, who was completely shttered and unable to function. He also helped care for his younger brothers and sisters. Although only 11, he acted like a grown up.
    Then his dad and mum made up. He went from trusted confidant to young kid in a matter of hours in everybodys eyes. All most people say to him when he tries to express his frustration and anger at the way his dad had treated his mum, is 'you are only a kid and don't understand. It is adult stuff between your parents.' He now feels betrayed by both his parents. He started talking to me when his mum dragged him to a meeting to 'keep him out of trouble'. He really opened up to me when i asked him how he felt about things and took his answers seriously. Over the last few months, he will come over and talk things through with me when he is angry and can't say why. He has learned to apoligise for his actions and explain why he felt the way he did. It doesn't get very far with his parents but the authorities are impressed with the way he is coming on and, hopefully, he will not get involved in drugs and crime which was the route he was heading down. So many kids in 'youth custody' come from broken homes or have got into drugs at an early age. Maybe society is failing them all, not just the ones we jail. We have time for young children and time for young adults but in-between years of growing up are isolated and without signposts. Maybe we need to bring back tribal rituals where at least stages in growing up were acknowledged and the behaviours expected were mostly understood by all.

  2. Oops, you hit the rant button again Richard. I seem to have a lot of them!

  3. your rant are awlays something I look forward to.Your comments are the first thing I read with my morning coffee.So,understand you do not have anything to apologize for.Thank you for your intrest in what I have to say.

  4. I came from the broken places a child grows around, and if it werent for the few adults here and there that actually heard what I was saying, I'd probably still be in a mental hospital, juvie, or prison... BUT I also have to say, I tried to see the better life ahead and in that I was able to let the past go, which helped me more than therapy.