Just when you think a human being couldn’t possibly get any worse, especially a young one who’s still in the process of growing up … another horror story hits the media.
There used to be a solid legal rationale for not charging juveniles as adults. It has to do with a grown-up sense of responsibility -- what used to be called “the age of reason.” Children do not understand many things about life, death, and adulthood -- especially the nature of mortality -- and therefore, like the insane or mentally disabled, they should not be held to the same legal standard of individual responsibility as an adult. But when juveniles cause death and horrific pain with planned acts of malicious violence, it’s hard to say they need counseling and time to grow up further, and leave it at that.
It’s too early to know what really happened in this horrifying incident, or where the blame or justice ultimately should lie, but the larger issue of how to try and punish or rehabilitate youngsters who commit violent acts needs to be addressed, publicly and legislatively. Surely trying them as juveniles and letting them go when they turn 21 is unacceptable. But locking up every offender and throwing away the key is not necessarily the answer, either. Whether prisons or work camps rehabilitate teens or not is and will always remain an open question: some are undoubtedly hardened by the experience, others evidently grow beyond it, depending on the individual and the kind of people who surround him (for they are mostly hims, after all) during incarceration.
Perhaps a part of the answer lies in trying such ostensible monsters as juveniles but setting punishment and rehabilitation at a stiffer, more hefty standard, based on the severity of the crime, with treatment and release depending on the offender’s behavior thereafter. I think the convicted offender should simply have to spend a lot of time in the company of the victim (especially if the victim is severely injured or in a coma), assisting her or him if possible, and working off some portion of restitution -- assuming this could be done safely. That would one possible way to help the wrongdoer comprehend the enormity of his carelessly monstrous act.