Connie K. Grier sheds light on how in the criminal justice system, the transition from boyhood to manhood happens in the blink of an eye.
As parents, we are determined to create a world where are sons can enjoy their childhood without the shadow of injustice constantly looming over their shoulders. We are remiss if we do not educate them on the complexities and injustices of the criminal justice system. My sons are very much aware of my social justice work, they are also aware of why there is a need for it. While some parents may think that totally sheltering children is protecting them, I know different. Over the past two decades I have seen too many young men caught up in the juvenile justice system due to everything except for the alleged rule that was broken. Once they enter the system, these boys are often punished and charged as adult men.
I read something recently that not only brought me to tears, but also served as a reminder that we live in a nation where the traditional standards of manhood (voting, military service, beard, mustache, deeper voice, etc.) are no longer required. We live in a nation where Boyz 2 Men is not just an R & B group, but can be the transition our minor sons face in the blink of an eye. Here’s the story of a 14 year old young man who who witnessed his mother’s physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her live-in boyfriend for almost 18 months. Now, this young man was described as an introvert, he was so shy that when he was stressed he would get the shakes and his nose would bleed. He was as far removed from aggressive, or rough and tumble as you could get. This young man witnessed his mother’s boyfriend punch her in the face so hard that as she went down she flew into the counter, which she struck, head first.
The young man watched his mother bleed and assumed she was dead. Thank God she was not, but that realization came too late for him. He had picked up a gun and fatally shot his mother’s attacker. As he was torn from his mother and arrested, someone had the brilliant idea to place him in an adult county correctional facility, as they were going to charge him as an adult for his crimes. For three days that 14 year old was repeatedly sexually assaulted by men.
The flawed, faulty, knee jerk reaction to treat youth who commit crimes as adults based on the seriousness nature of the crime is not logical. Children are not adults. Their brains do not fully develop until they are in their 20s. This young man was traumatized after witnessing months and months of his mother’s abuse. He basically was in the same shape as a soldier in Vietnam, killing the perceived enemy. The soldier would get stars and bars…the young boy: just time behind bars if he were lucky.
Most psychological studies will tell you that on average, the likelihood of a positive societal outcome for youth being treated like an adult in terms of any law breaking behavior is extremely low. Research shows that young people who are kept in the juvenile justice system are less likely to be repeat lawbreakers than young people who are transferred into the adult system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, youth who are transferred from the juvenile court system to the adult criminal system are approximately 34% more likely than youth retained in the juvenile court system to be re-arrested for violent or other crime.
It is because of real life events as the one described above and the ones documented in “Kids for Cash”, the documentary that highlighted Judge Mark Ciavarella and the injustices that took place against the youth and families of Luzerne County, Pa., (this included sentencing for something as innocuous as creating a fake My Space page where students joked about their Assistant Principal), that we must actively protect our sons from being victimized by society.
They are boys.
They will make mistakes.
Treating them and punishing them as adults will only lead to dire consequences not only for our young men but also for society in its entirety.
Photo: Chris Potter/Flickr