Friday, August 17, 2012

Child Criminals Are Different From Adult Criminals

A recent picture of Julie Sanders, a 40 year-old
who was involved in a hate crime as a teenager

Recently, I have written several blog posts highlighting US Supreme Court decisions regarding juvenile offenders and life in prison without parole. Two of them are here and here.

Incarcerating a criminal, no matter the age, has numerous potential goals--to punish the individual, to offer solace to the victim or victim's family, to rehabilitate the offender, to protect the public from future crime. It is in these two last points--rehabilitating the criminal and protecting the public from future danger--where child offenders are largely different from adult offenders.

Children's brains and personalities are not as fully developed as adults'. When they commit crimes, there is a fairly good chance children can change. They can learn the error of their ways and can go on to live productive lives. In all but the rarest instances, these juvenile offenders will not pose a major ongoing threat to the public. Adults are different--many times it is difficult (but not impossible) to rehabilitate an adult offender.

Julie Sanders is a great example of a juvenile offender who was rehabilitated. When she was a teenager, she was involved in a hate crime as a member of a White Power group. Specifically, she was present during the murder of an Ethiopian man.

While incarcerated for her crime, she realized what she had done was horribly wrong, and at the age of 40, she is now working toward a degree in social work so she can work with kids who are at risk for joining hate groups.

What Ms. Sanders did decades ago is horrible. Unforgivable, even. She lives with that thought every day of her life. But, she made a fundamental change when she went from being an incorrigible youth to being a responsible adult, and she is actively working on making the world a better place. This is not a typical story line for an adult offender, but children are different. They deserve different punishment in the legal system.

Here is a link to a news story about Julie Sanders, including audio of her describing her transformation:

A Mother Tries To Atone For A Deadly Hate Crime

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.


I'm wondering if Ms. Sanders, as a juvenile, had been the victim of off-label, untested, inappropriate, unmonitored psychoactive medication that would have had a high probability of extremal, sociopathic reaction?

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