November 19, 2008
Posted: 02:52 PM ET
NEW YORK–The debate over whether the eight-year-old Arizona boy should be prosecuted as an adult or as a juvenile misses the point entirely: he should not be prosecuted at all.
Most of the civilized world recognizes that children are not criminally responsible for their actions until they reach a level of maturity such that they can clearly distinguish between right and wrong. In the United States, 37 states, including Arizona, have no minimum age at which a child can be prosecuted.
We thus treat our own children more severely than does Pakistan, Myanmar, or Sudan, which fix their age of criminal responsibility at seven. The age of criminal responsibility in France is 13; China, Germany, Italy and Japan, 14; in Scandinavian countries, 15; Brazil, Colombia and Peru, 18. And in most of these countries, young offenders are tried in juvenile courts and provided with social services upon conviction, with incarceration as a last resort.
In the United States, 25,000 young offenders are now serving time for crimes committed as minors but for which they were charged and convicted as adults. These young people are eight times more likely to commit suicide behind bars and five times more likely to become victims of sexual assault than their adult counterparts.
Real questions have emerged from the videotaped interrogation as to whether this third-grader has now given a false confession. But even assuming he was the shooter, pinning any legal blame on him is absurd. Bringing police and incarceration to bear upon a young child whose feet dangle well above the floor is not only cruel to him, it distracts us from the real issues.
Arizona’s lax gun laws do not require adults to keep their guns away from children, or even to install trigger locks. As long as we allow angry or confused kids access to guns, we will have gun deaths. Are we so afraid to address the real issue that we’d prosecute a little boy?
–Lisa Bloom, In Session anchor
Filed under: Uncategorized
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