Nations differ on prosecution of pint-sized lawbreakers
If you took my blog quiz of February 3, you will recall that only eight people in the entire world are serving sentences of life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed at age 13, and that all eight are in the Prison Nation (aka the United States).
February was a big month for juvenile crime news. We had the little 4-year-old who shot his babysitter, a plea deal in the case of the Arizona 9-year-old who shot his father and another man to death, and -- most recently -- the 11-year-old Pennsylvania boy who will be prosecuted as an adult in the shooting death of a pregnant woman.
Having just conducted two back-to-back competency evaluations of 11-year-olds here in rainy California, I can tell you one thing for certain: They are NOT miniature adults. And except when they commit crimes, no one pretends that they are. After all, they may not drive, vote, buy alcohol, smoke cigarettes, sign contracts, or even decide to skip a day of school.
Not only do 11-year-olds just not get it but, as I have blogged about previously, transferring juveniles to adult courts actually increases rather than reduces recidivism!
While U.S. states engage in a dubious competition over who can try more young children as adults, more civilized Europeans are going in the opposite direction.
In most of Europe, children under 10 cannot even be prosecuted as criminals, much less tried and sentenced as adults. The age of criminal responsibility is as high as 15 in Scandinavian countries. And a British think tank recently recommended raising the age of criminal prosecution even more, to 16 or 18.
Just this week, Scotland announced plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 8 to 12 to bring it more in line with other European countries.
"There is no good reason for Scotland to continue to have the lowest age of criminal responsibility in Europe," said Scotland’s Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill. "Most importantly, the evidence shows that prosecution at an early age increases the chance of reoffending – so this change is about preventing crime."
Public policy based on data instead of hysteria? Now, that's positively un-American!
- Juvenile transfer increases recidivism: Department of Justice confirms multiple study findings (Aug. 19, 2008)
- Amnesty International: Children in the US Justice System
- Children serving life without parole: “Cruel and unusual?” (Feb. 3, 2009)
- Move over, Guantanamo - here comes Wisconsin: Lifetime detention for misconduct at age 14? (Dec. 2, 2008)
- Prosecutor will not use 9-year-old's confession (Jan. 6, 2009)
- Prison pipeline for transgender youth: Poor and minority especially at risk (March 26, 2008)
- Wikipedia: International chart, minimum age of criminal responsibility (Aug. 19, 2008)