Nope, Sorry, It's STILL Not Okay To Charge 10-Year-Olds As Adults

Nope, Sorry, It's STILL Not Okay To Charge 10-Year-Olds As Adults
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As a society, we love to talk about "the children." We understand that a 10-year-old child is too young to vote, to smoke cigarettes, to play the lottery, to drink alcohol, to drive, or to consent to sex or marriage. In fact we know that, for the most part, they are too young to do algebra. Because their brains simply aren't there yet.

But when it comes to crime, especially in America, that all goes right out the window. We love charging children as adults here and do so more often and with more fervor than any other country in the world. We are the only country in the world where a child can be sentenced to life without parole. We have more youth locked up than any other nation and we are really the only country that regularly puts them in adult prisons Indeed, one out of every 14 juveniles convicted of crimes will end up in an adult prison.

On November 21 of this year, a 10-year-old boy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, shot and killed his mother, 44-year-old Quiana Mann, reportedly because she woke him up early and refused to buy him a virtual reality headset. He was charged as an adult with alternate counts of first degree intentional homicide and first-degree reckless homicide, as is required by law in Wisconsin for homicide or attempted homicide, with his bail set at $50,000.

On Wednesday, the child made his first court appearance. His lawyer asked that because he is a child with no income, his bail be set to $100, the amount of money he had in his piggy bank. The judge refused and imposed travel restrictions on him should he somehow make bail.

The child had reportedly had behavioral issues and serious mental health issues going back a while — so much so that his mother had installed cameras in their home. His sister told investigators that the boy has had "rage issues," that “he has 5 different imaginary people that talk to him,” and that the day after he killed his mother he logged on to Amazon and bought the headset. His aunt told police he didn't cry or show any remorse after his mother died. Reportedly, after he said he was sorry for killing his mother, he asked if his package had arrived yet.

The sister also told police that the boy had been meeting with a therapist who gave him a “concerning diagnosis."

Via NBC:

He admitted that “his mother would not allow him to have something from Amazon that he wanted to have,” it said. And he admitted that he retrieved the gun because he was mad at her for waking him up at 6 a.m. when he usually sleeps until 6:30 a.m. and admitted getting his mother’s keys to her gun lockbox the night before, according to the complaint.

He went to the basement and took up a shooting stance, the complaint said. He said his mother walked in front of him when he tried to shoot the wall to "scare her," and he admitted that he “shot her in the face when she was approximately three feet away,” the complaint said.

He then put the gun in the living room closet and woke up his sister, it said.

This is all horrifying and beyond devastating for this family. It's the stuff horror movies are made of, going back to The Bad Seed. It's understandable that many people would look at this situation and think that there is something so terribly wrong with this child that the only course of action is to lock him up for the rest of his life and throw away the key. That is, in fact, what the state of Wisconsin is looking to do.

But they shouldn't. Because he's 10.

This is a child who needs help, who perhaps even needs to be institutionalized in a mental facility, but he does not need to be put away in an adult prison for the rest of his natural life. If we don't believe a child's brain is fully formed enough to make almost any other decision on earth, how can we say "Oh, but when it comes to crime, they're just as responsible for their actions as adults"?

We can't. Because they're not.

This child obviously had psychological issues that were not being sufficiently addressed. He also shouldn't have been in a house with a gun, whether it was locked up or not, to begin with. I am not saying this to blame the victim, I am saying it because studies have shown that "[g]uns kept in homes are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal accidental shooting, criminal assault, or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense." I am saying it because a 10-year-old child cannot be held solely to blame for something like this.

It is not a given that those who commit horrific crimes as children will go on to a life of crime. Perhaps one of the most notorious child murderers of all, England's Mary Bell, killed two toddlers in separate incidents at the age of 10. She was sent to a juvenile facility and released at the age of 23. She was never convicted of another crime and has lived out the rest of her life in anonymity, having been granted protections guarding her identity and her children and grandchildren's identities from the press.

When it comes to children who commit crimes, including crimes as horrific as this one, the goal should be rehabilitation and care, not punishment. Retributive sentencing in these cases is wrong, and adults should know better.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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