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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Send that pre-pubescent boy straight to jail!

Is an 11-year-old a child or an adult? For most intents and purposes, in almost everyone’s mind, an 11-year-old is a child. The legal system, however, can have other ideas and disagree with this accepted assumption, trying children as adults in court.

In a recent incident in Tennessee, an 11-year-old boy shot and killed his 8-year-old neighbor after an argument in which she refused to let him pet her dog. He went into his house, got his father’s shotgun from an unlocked cabinet that it was stored in and shot the girl from inside his house.

The boy’s juvenile hearing has been set for Oct. 28, however, the county sheriff wants to move the case to an adult court instead. There is no doubt the crime was horrible and that there needs to be consequences for this child. However, would convicting this 11-year-old as an adult really benefit society?

As an adult, he would face harsher penalties. In adult courts, there are not as many rehabilitation and counseling options for offenders, and the kid may very well receive a life-sentence. Typically, a sentence received in an adult court will remain on a person’s criminal record, while one received in a juvenile court will be expunged when the child is released as an adult. In this case, though, with a crime as severe as first-degree murder, it is unlikely to be expunged, even if charged in a juvenile court.

In addition, the 11-year-old may have to serve his time in an adult jail as opposed to a juvenile facility after being tried in an adult court. Adult jails are made with the purpose of locking up dangerous criminals to keep them from being a threat to society, but have little resources when it comes to rehabilitation, especially for children. Rehabilitation in adult prisons is focused on older adults, and especially men, with anger management or technical skill developments.

The staff is not trained to deal with children and teenagers. The suicide rates for children in adult facilities are much higher than they are in juvenile centers. Additionally, children are more likely to face sexual assault in adult jails. When they are released, they are also more likely to commit another crime and be arrested again than those released from juvenile facilities.

Children who enter the adult prison system leave with more problems than they started out with. James Burns, a filmmaker and poet who was in both juvenile and adult prison systems as a minor, has since rehabilitated himself and now speaks out for children in these situations. He claims that, “often times, people come into the adult system and they come out with more problems than they had before they went in. … The juvenile system, while it is still broken in many ways, still offers more support than what an adult facility has. They’re more geared towards treating juveniles.”

Commonly, teenagers who are 16 or 17 years old are moved to adult courts for more serious crimes because at an age so close to legal adulthood, they have the maturity to know the consequences of their actions and to face the adult system. This child is 11 years old: only seven years from adulthood. How did you see the world when you were 11 years old? Would you make the same mistakes today as you did as a pre-teen?

Chances are, you have changed, grown and learned how to conduct yourself as a member of society. While some may argue that 11 years old is old enough to know that it is wrong to kill someone, that does not mean this child is beyond help. Locking him away for life will be putting more burden on our already strained prison system and depriving society of someone who may one day be a contributing member.

What he did was wrong. It was wrong and he needs to be punished and know that there are consequences, but it is not reasonable to expect an 11-year-old to act like an adult simply because it is convenient.

Follow Apoorva Bhaskara on Twitter.

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