TEEN-AGED MURDERERS: PAROLE OR NOT TO PAROLE?
According to an article in ABC news today, there are currently 79 people in the United States serving life without parole for homicides they committed at ages 13 or 14. The article discusses whether there should be parole for juvenile offenders receiving life sentences, because the death penalty for juveniles has been ruled unconstitutional but life without parole has not.
The question currently pending is, should these criminals be permitted parole just because they were juveniles when they murdered? And what about justice for those victimized by young thugs?
I am an advocate of the death penalty. I don't think it's equably awarded. I do think the appeals system is completely out of control; 20 or more years on Death Row pending appeals and case review is beyond ridiculous. In almost all death penalty cases today, once convicted and sentenced to death, it should be entirely possible to march the defendant out behind the courthouse and execute the sentence immediately and rest easy that justice was served.
I believe that we do more damage by hoping that these young nightmares might magically evolve into worthwhile, contributing citizens, instead of recognizing we've got a poisonous viper in our midst and crushing the life out of it expeditiously. We keep playing the "catch and release" judicial system with youthful offenders, with the result that more and more people are victimized and all the kids get is the improved criminal skills to perpetrate wider swathes of destruction.
The current argument is that juveniles' brains aren't sufficiently developed to allow them to understand the consequences of their actions. They aren't able to truly control their impulsive behaviors. Allowances should be made for their mistakes due to their immaturity -- and treatment, not punishment or incarceration is the best option.
And they're partially right. Kids are impulsive. They are inclined to act first and think later. That's why they're supposed to have parental supervision. That's why they're supposed to be taught discipline and what is and is not socially acceptable behavior. Most kids learn this. Most kids have parents who care about them and make them comply with rules. The ones who don't -- well, my question is, how hard should we try to retrain them when parents fail and where's our limit? What are we willing to lose as a society in order to preserve a problematic potential for positive return on our investment? How much and who are we willing to sacrifice if we're wrong not locking them away when we have the chance?
There's a case currently in the media we should look at in terms of these very issues. A pair of juveniles deliberately, maliciously threw a shopping cart off of a walkway in a busy mall, striking a woman below and causing life-threatening head injuries from which she is unlikely to ever fully recover.
"Charged as juveniles, the boy and a now 13-year-old friend pleaded guilty to assault in the Oct. 30 prank. It seriously hurt a woman who was shopping for Halloween candy to give away.
"The younger boy was the one who came up with the idea of tossing the cart off the walkway for kicks, and he gave the cart the final shove, city Law Department attorney Leah S. Schmelzer said.
"He arrived at that moment freighted with years of familial and emotional turmoil.
"His home life has been chaotic, punctuated with frequent moves, parental neglect and violence, including an episode in which the boy saw his father attack his mother, Manhattan Family Court Judge Susan Larabee said. The judge noted that the boy has been suspended at times from school, once after he started choking a girl, and she told the boy he has serious anger and mental health problems and a lot of catching up to do in school."
You see the problem. Advocates on behalf of the unsupervised, pre-teen juveniles want you to believe that these little monsters didn't fully understand that tossing a cart off a walkway in a busy mall might hurt people down below. They label a demonstrated intent to kill or cripple someone as a "prank." They want you to believe that this kid, with a pronounced history of violence, aggression and murderous intent, isn't exactly the kind of nasty little animal who should be locked up or put to sleep. They want you to believe that it's possible to remold this kid into a facsimile of a functional, trustworthy human being who might actually learn not to hurt anyone else -- if we throw enough social programs at him and spend enough taxpayer money for therapy.
Meantime, a conscientious, hardworking good citizen is facing years of disability and medical treatment and crippling financial hardship for herself and her family. Her injury and decreased contributions are a painful loss to society as a whole. Her attacker's continued presence in any community is a bleeding wound of resources, and a physical danger to others.
But we're going to inundate this little freak and his friend with special programs and therapy. We're going to funnel ridiculous amounts of money and resources into assistance and counseling for him and his family in the hope of somehow miraculously converting him into something other than fodder for the adult criminal justice system. But we're not going to take him away from the pee-poor excuse for parents and family that created him. We're not going to remove him from the neighborhood and demographical sewer that produced him or his parents.
Nope. We're going to leave him in right there in the familial/community toilet, pouring resources on him and pretending like there's something that can be salvaged, while all our efforts at redemption get flushed. And when he and his family finally run through everything the system has to get his life in order, when he's finally damaged or hurt enough people, when he's finally aged out and can no longer camouflage murderous intent behind a facade of juvenile incomprehension, then we can ship him off to the adult prison system, leaving a wake of waste and destruction behind him like a bloody EF5 tornado.
Do I think that these 79 murderers should be paroled? Sure. Do we still have Alcatraz ? Can we send them to a Siberian Gulag for rehabilitation? In short, can we lessen the negative impact of them on the community if we let them out? And how many people damaged, injured, killed before we say "Enough" and do a little trigger-pulling of our own?
It's not the age of the perpetrator that determines punishment. It's the crime. Age alone is not an excuse for murder -- and it should NEVER be the only criterion for opening the cage and letting a murderer out. Some crimes are beyond forgiveness. Some children are beyond repair and need to be locked away for everyone's safety. You don't keep risk the lives of good productive citizens for a proven murderer's improbable redemption. You just don't do it.