10/09/2011

Should more juveniles be charged as adults?

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A Minnesota House committee approved "Emily's Law" this afternoon (HF699). Filed by Rep. Bud Nornes and Rep. Torrey Westrom, it's nicknamed after 2-year-old Emily Johnson of Fergus Falls, who died a day after she was sexually assaulted and then thrown against a wall by the 13-year-old son of the daycare provider.
Currently in Minnesota, persons as young as 14 can be charged as adults.
"Why is our daughter laying in the ground and this person is in a group home?" asked Lynn Johnson at the House Public Safety and Civil Justice Committee hearing this afternoon, shortly before the committee approved the bill on a 12-to-6 vote. She said the young man charged with manslaughter in the case, was just 19 days from his 14th birthday.
"In Kansas and Vermont, it's 10. In Missouri and Colorado, it's 12," said her husband, Travis, who rattled off a list of states with ages for being tried as an adult younger than Minnesota's requirement.
He disputed opponents of the bill, who said 13 year olds may not know the difference between right and wrong. "Why must the brain be fully developed before one is held accountable for his actions?" Travis Johnson said.
Doug Johnson, the Washington County Attorney, testified against the bill, saying if children were tried as adults, they could be released sooner than if they entered the juvenile justice system. He said the boy who assaulted the Johnson's toddler, "would be out of the system before he was 18" had he been tried as an adult.
"If you send a kid to prison as an adult, you're going to get nothing when he comes out other than a future criminal," he said.
Another opponent said juveniles in prison as adults are eight times more likely to be sexually assaulted as adults and are more likely to commit suicide.
A psychologist, Sue Foss, testified that until age 15, adolescents are "not able to pick up cues" that adults are, saying an adolescent is more likely to consider a crying child to be deliberately trying to annoy. "Thirteen year olds don't have the capacity of adults or modify their behavior to avoid future negative consequences," she said, adding that that doesn't mean they shouldn't be held accountable for their actions.
According to state public defender John Stuart, there are no 14 or 15 year olds currently in state prison.
Rep. Debra Hilstrom,DFL-Brooklyn Center, who served on a sexual offender task force, said "the goal for me at the end of the incarceration period is to make sure there isn't one more victim. Less than 25 percent of the people who are incarcerated as an adult get sex offender treatment even if they're ordered to by the court."
Hilstrom said she didn't get the information she needed to make sure that "these parents get what they're asking for."
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