How should society deal with children who commit terrible crimes?

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  1. Josak profile image61
    Josakposted 8 years ago

    A few years back I met a man who had been a child soldier in the Sierra Leone conflict, in one of the most harrowing conversations I have ever had over a whole evening he told me about the things he had seen and done, some of which are literally too heinous to write here, from murder to cannibalism and the sickest forms of torture often on other children and pregnant women.

    I just finished watching Boy A which is a film based on the James Bulger case where two young boys murdered a toddler and about one of the murderers trying to start a new life after being released a decade later, psychologically we know that children are less capable of empathy, children who come from abusive or violent backgrounds are often completely incapable of it until they grow older, obviously if they pose a threat to others they should be kept away but if they are rehabilitated (apparently this is far more easily achieved with children) what should we do with them and what fate should await them and as children how much responsibility do they bear.

  2. Rooster306 profile image40
    Rooster306posted 8 years ago

    That is a tuff one. In most cases I would say keep them out of society until they show some signs of normality and empathy. They pose a threat to themselves and others. However, it would be hard to find a place for them. I do think that most of them could recover though with therapy and some there to show them something other then evil.

  3. krsharp05 profile image85
    krsharp05posted 8 years ago

    I'm just curious why you believe that children are less capable of feeling empathy?  I know that is may be true of children who come from abusive homes and have been abused and neglected but it's not a sure thing.

    1. Josak profile image61
      Josakposted 8 years agoin reply to this

      I studied psychology a long time go and research with children shows they have not developed the ability to see things from the perspective of another which is essential for the ability to feel empathy, they just have not developed it yet.

      1. krsharp05 profile image85
        krsharp05posted 8 years agoin reply to this

        I'm not sure I agree with you in the matter of empathy.  I absolutely agree that they don't have the capacity to understand the full scope of their actions - exactly as you state in your next answer about what you and your friends did that almost got you killed.

  4. iantoPF profile image80
    iantoPFposted 8 years ago

    This is a complex subject on many levels. A child who commits a horrific act may well change over time, but once they have developed that empathy and become "Normal" adults, won't the memory of what they did drive them insane?
    Another question. I'm thinking of the two 12 year old boys who kidnapped a child from a shopping mall in England, tortured and then killed him by tying him to railroad tracks. This happened before I came to America so it must be about 30 years ago. The security cameras did not give a clear enough picture of them. The way they were caught was by two psychiatrists who developed a profile of the children who would perform this act. Because they were 12 they would be eligible for release. They may escape justice but it is doubtful they will escape the families revenge. That raises the question of what happens afterwards. Should the justice system try to protect them?
    Another point that comes to mind. Let's take the case of a 15 year old girl who wants to join a gang. She is told that to join she must first kill a member of another gang. She does this and is caught. Here in America it is argued that this was done with full knowledge of the act. An adult crime was committed and so she must be tried as an adult. However, if a 22 year old man was to have sex with her she is now an innocent child. Is it consistent to treat a child as a child in one case and as an adult in another?
    I apologize Josak, instead of answering your question I am posing more but I don't see how to answer intelligently until other, underlying, issues have been resolved.

    1. Josak profile image61
      Josakposted 8 years agoin reply to this

      The British case was the James Bulger case I believe, they have both actually been released and are living somewhere under assumed names, there are many who would kill them if they found them I suppose.

      The issue is a very difficult one, as a child I did spectacularly stupid things not on that level but things that almost got me and several friends killed, looking back I can only shake my head, it is obvious that children do not have the same mental capacity as adults and should be tried as such (to me anyway) and the law really does need to decide when the child ceases to be a child.

      No need to apologize it's the sort of question where there are no easy answers nd sometimes every answer simply leads to more questions.

  5. krsharp05 profile image85
    krsharp05posted 8 years ago

    Do either of you know the waiver laws?  Each state has set laws about waiving children from the juvenile courts into the adult court system. '

    The 15 year old girl did willfully and knowingly commit murder.  In the US, depending on the state, she might be waived into the criminal court and tried as an adult.  Because she committed a heinous crime doesn't mean she has no empathy, it means she wanted to belong to the gang.  We are speculating by trying to guess her frame of mind. 

    Now if she has sex with a 22 year old (I assume it's consensual) she is not a victim. That's not a criminal act on her part, if the case were brought to court it would be on behalf of the 22 year old. 

    The two cannot be related.

    1. Josak profile image61
      Josakposted 8 years agoin reply to this

      See the hypocrisy is perfectly spelled out in your comment, if a child murders someone we can say she did it because she wanted to and thus she should be treated as an adult because she had full knowledge of her actions.

      If the same girl has sex with an older man we don't say she had sex because she wanted to and she had full knowledge of her actions so we should treat the crime as if she was an adult instead we say the girl cannot possibly understand sex and does not have the maturity to grasp the concepts involved.

      If a child cannot understand the concepts and consequences involved with sex and thus does not have the full right to consent then how can we say that a child fully understands the concepts and consequences of murder and should be tried as an adult?

      1. krsharp05 profile image85
        krsharp05posted 8 years agoin reply to this

        So you believe that consensual sex falls into the same category as first degree murder? 

        How is consensual sex a crime on her part?  The crime is on the part of the 22 year old man.  I believe you're talking apples to oranges.  If she were 22 and the man was 15, that would make sense. 

        Don't get me wrong Josak, I'm understanding that there are cases when juveniles should be waived into the adult system but the waivers that are currently in place are terribly flawed as is the juvenile justice system. 

        One major problem is that in the US we have the lovely rule that once you're waived into the adult court, you are always considered an adult regardless of the offense or your age.  That seems ludicrous to me.  Unfortunately, I don't write the laws or lobby Congress.

        1. Bob Zermop profile image82
          Bob Zermopposted 8 years agoin reply to this

          If consensual sex is not a crime, then how could you charge the 22 year old for engaging with a minor? The mentality behind saying an adult engaging a minor is wrong is that the minor is unable to appreciate the full scope of consequences sex can result in. I agree with Josak that then charging the minor with murder as an adult is a double-standard.

        2. Aficionada profile image91
          Aficionadaposted 8 years agoin reply to this

          I thought that the logic in the situation was something like this: because the 15-year old woman is not able in the eyes of the law to give consent to sex, then it becomes a crime for the man to have sex with her. If she is able to give consent (by law defined by her age), then it is no longer automatically a crime when a man over the age of consent has sex with her, if she has consented to having sex.

          It is her age - not her actual consent or lack of it - that determines whether the man is committing a crime, supposedly because she is not able to make that kind of grown-up decision.  Then poof, she has the right birthday and suddenly she can give consent, according to the law.

          I totally agree with others that it is a sticky question to determine when a person should be considered an adult where the law is concerned.

  6. Sherry Hewins profile image95
    Sherry Hewinsposted 8 years ago

    I just think a child is a child, no matter what they do. It makes no sense for them ever to be charged as an adult, they are not adults. Their brains are different, they can't think like an adult. Killing someone to get in a gang seems to me to be an example of the kind of thought process more typical of a child than an adult, earning the acceptance of the peer group is of supreme importance and the consequences of their actions are not fully comprehended. This is not to say the crimes are not serious and should not be punished.

    1. krsharp05 profile image85
      krsharp05posted 8 years agoin reply to this

      So what would you do with a boy who is 17 who will be eighteen in two months (legally an adult) and he commits murder 1st degree along with aggravated kidnapping? Should he still be sentenced under the juvenile guidelines? 

      There is definitely a gray area and I think it be difficult.  The biggest problem we face right now is that every state is doing something different and then the federal government has a completely different set of guidelines.  I've worked with juvenile felons who said they knew they wouldn't get large sentences because they were juveniles.  Wow, that floored me.  The determination of mens rea is the real burden.

      1. Bob Zermop profile image82
        Bob Zermopposted 8 years agoin reply to this

        Exactly what I was thinking of, but how could you avoid the mis-sentencing of minors that are actually still children. I would say err towards letting a few criminals walk and protecting the real children.

  7. Bob Zermop profile image82
    Bob Zermopposted 8 years ago

    This is a difficult question for me simply because there is no way to know, as of now, who has developed adult empathy and who hasn't. There is psychological testing and other such tools, but they by necessity have a degree of arbitrary perspectives. I would lean towards sticking strictly to the age limit, for the same reason that I don't argue against the age limit. The stereotype (and it is a stereotype, I'm certain there are 16 year olds whose mentalities are those of adults) is unavoidable because there isn't a way to determine who is and is not an adult. I would say go with "innocent till proven guilty", and suffer letting a few adult underage criminals go in order to protect and rehabilitate those that are actually still children.

    1. krsharp05 profile image85
      krsharp05posted 8 years agoin reply to this

      Kids won't have adult empathy, they will have a child's capacity to empathize.  I prefer using these guidelines
      1. prior criminal history
      2. severity of the crime
      3. propensity to reoffend
      4. support child will have to effectively  rehabilitate

      It's unethical to base decisions on one singular item or to have one person make that decision.  If  a jury decides, that could be even more detrimental.  I would love for someone to jump on board with me and help rectify these problems.


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