10/09/2011

Saving Sara - Putting the pieces back together


Sixteen-year-old human trafficking victim Sara Kruzan was sentenced to life in prison without parole when, after years of sexual, physical and mental abuse, she shot her pimp. When Sara met G.G., the 31-year-old man who would become her pimp, she was only 11. G.G. groomed Sara two years before he raped her. By then, his control was complete and he forced her into prostitution. Sara and the other girls who G.G. exploited were out on the streets from 6pm to 6am, every night. Twelve hours a night, seven days a week, for three years, Sara was raped by strangers so G.G. could profit. After three years, she snapped, and she killed him.
Now 33, Sara has spent half her life in prison as a model prisoner, and has asked Gov. Schwarzenegger for clemency. Sara was arrested and tried in 1994, before anyone was using the term "human trafficking" and when the country was still struggling to understand issues like domestic violence and pimp control that give one person coercive control over another. So there was no expert witness at Sara's trial to explain how her years of repeated rape, trauma, and abuse had affected her actions. There was no expert to tell the jury that with counseling, support, and care, Sara could heal from her traumatic past and grow to be a strong and moral woman.
Last year Sara's clemency plea was submitted to Gov. Schwarzenegger, in which he granted clemency by commuting Sara's sentence to Life with parole. Although, reducing Sara's sentence provided her with hope that she would eventually be freed, it is not justice and does not go far enough. Many petitioners along with myself feel that Sara has served more than enough time and that Time Served should be granted.
The decision of whether or not to release Sara with time served rests solely with Gov. Jerry Brown. Sara Kruzan has spent the past 17 years in prison and deserves freedom. After surviving being raped and sold for three years as a child she deserves a chance to be a free woman, now.
Tell Gov. Brown that human trafficking victims deserve support and care, not prison. Ask him to release Sara with time served.
www.freesarakruzan.org
www.sarakruzan.com

http://www.change.org/petitions/free-human-trafficking-victim-sara-kruzan
Why People are Signing
  • 1 day ago
    Because the victim is being punished for doing something the Law couldn't or wouldn't take care of!
  • 1 day ago
    The reason why I am signing the petition is because I believe that Sara should be free from jail. Because what she did was self-defense. What she did was only to protect herself from someone that was trying to hurt her.
  • 1 day ago
    I believe that Sara has served more than enough time. This is a big injustice. A cop in NYC was driving under the influence and killed a young woman which was pregnant, her son and her mother in law all at once. He did not go to jail at all.... This is very unjust Free Sara Kruzan!
  • about 24 hours ago
    Dear Gov Brown,
    Please consider releasing Sara. In 2011, we now know what happens when a person is abused over and over for years. The Battered Woman defense is now a fact of law, and should be considered in Sara's case. Think of all the 13 yr old girls in your family. What would you do if this happened to one of them?
    Thank you,
    Patti
  • about 8 hours ago
    Because she shouldn't, be in prison in the first place. Not that what she did was right, but it was understandable in the circumstances.


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Martinsville shooting: Boy guilty of reckless homicide

 September 9, 2011, last update: 9/9 @ 5:18 pm

Nathan Butler, 12, is escorted out of the Morgan County Courthouse Wednesday after his hearing for murder and reckless homicide. Photo by Julie Crothers.
MARTINSVILLE — A Morgan County judge has found 12-year-old Nathan Butler guilty of one count of reckless homicide in the June shooting death of his 6-year-old brother, Andrew Frye.
Superior Court II Judge Christopher Burnham found Butler not guilty of murder after nearly two days of testimony and about 70 exhibits. Burnham ordered Butler to be held in secure detention at the Johnson County Juvenile Detention Center until a disposition hearing is held after Butler is evaluated at the Logansport Juvenile Detention Center.
The judge ruled that the state had proven beyond reasonable doubt that Butler, then 11, acted in a reckless manner when he shot his brother in the head with a .22 rifle. Burnham said the charge, if it had been committed by an adult, would have been a Class C felony, which can carry a sentence of three to eight years in prison.
The state did not, however, prove all elements in the murder charge, Burnham said, which, if committed by an adult, would have been a Class A felony with a prison sentence of 20 to 50 years.
After the verdict was read, everyone was removed from the courtroom except family members so Butler could have a few minutes with his family. His family was led out a back door of the courthouse to avoid the media. Butler was led out of the courthouse with leg shackles and a chain securing his hands. He did not speak as he was placed into the transport vehicle.
Afterward, Butler’s attorney, John Boren, said he would file an appeal of the decision. Of his client, Boren said, “He’s got no criminal intent.”
Boren previously had said it was important his client not be known as a murderer for the rest of his life.
Morgan County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Robert Cline said he felt Burnham’s verdict was just.
“The boy needs help, and by being in the juvenile system, I hope he gets that help,” Cline said.
Cline said the juvenile system is geared for rehabilitation and is not like the adult system.
Morgan County Prosecutor Steve Sonnega could not attend the hearing Friday afternoon due to a prior engagement. “It’s a difficult case for everyone. You wish there was something that could be done to bring Andrew back,” Sonnega said.
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Police: Kindergartner caught distributing heroin at school

7-year-old boy had 18 bags of the drug, handed them out to friends

Reuters
PITTSBURGH - A kindergarten student in western Pennsylvania brought bags of heroin to school and handed them out to friends, said authorities, who on Thursday asked parents to search their children's belongings for the drug.
The 7-year-old boy at a primary school in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Carrick told detectives he gave bags of the drug to three friends over the past few days, police said in a statement released late Wednesday. He called the bags the "magic ticket" because they were stamped with an image of a rabbit emerging from a magic hat, police said.
A teacher discovered the heroin and alerted the principal, who found 18 bags of the drug in the boy's locker and backpack, according to police. Police searched the school with a dog on Wednesday but found no further sign of the drug.
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Teen who impersonated police charged as adult in gun crime

Two years ago, Vincent Richardson sauntered into the Grand Crossing District station in a uniform, duping cops in an embarrassing stunt

By Rosemary Sobol
Chicago Sun-Times
The South Side teenager who made national headlines for impersonating a Chicago Police officer and patrolling the streets as a 14-year-old is in trouble with the law again.
Two years ago, Vincent Richardson sauntered into the Grand Crossing District station in a uniform, duping cops in an embarrassing stunt that led to disciplinary action in the department.
Now 17, he has been charged as an adult with felony aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, police said.
He was arrested on May 10 after admitting to police that a semi-automatic handgun found in the 5600 block of South Throop belonged to him when officers performing a protective pat down found a magazine loaded with ammunition on him, police said.
Richardson was being held in Cook County Jail in lieu of $50,000 bail.
Just months after his January 2009 stunt impersonating a police officer, Richardson dressed as a businessman to take a test drive at a South Side car dealership and swiped a Lexus.
Juvenile Court Judge Andrew Berman sentenced him to three years' probation and a month of home confinement in July 2009 for possession of a stolen motor vehicle.
Richardson also was ordered to undergo therapy.
Richardson also had pleaded guilty to false impersonation of a police officer but did not face additional punishment for that charge.
Later, Richardson went before Berman again for violating terms of his home confinement by lying to probation officers and the judge.
"I've given [him] chance after chance after chance," Berman said before sentencing Richardson to nearly three months in the Illinois Department of Corrections in September 2009.
Then in March of last year, Richardson was sentenced to juvenile prison for pushing his mother and stealing his uncle's car while the older man watched television.
At the time, officials with the State's Attorney's Juvenile Justice Bureau said Richardson could be held in a state facility for juveniles until he was 21, but they also noted that he could be released earlier for good behavior.

Boys With Unpopular Names More Likely to Break Law


 Boys in the United States with common names like Michael and David are less likely to commit crimes than those named Ernest or Ivan.
David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee of Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania compared the first names of male juvenile delinquents to the first names of male juveniles in the population. The researchers constructed a popularity-name index (PNI) for each name. For example, the PNI for Michael is 100, the most frequently given name during the period. The PNI for
David is 50, a name given half as frequently as Michael. The PNI is approximately 1 for names such as Alec, Ernest, Ivan, Kareem, and Malcolm.
Results show that, regardless of race, juveniles with unpopular names are more likely to engage in criminal activity. The least popular names were associated with juvenile delinquency among both blacks and whites.
The findings, announced today, are detailed in the journal Social Science Quarterly.
While the names are likely not the cause of crime, the researchers argue that “they are connected to factors that increase the tendency to commit crime, such as a disadvantaged home environment, residence in a county with low socioeconomic status, and households run by one parent.”
“Also, adolescents with unpopular names may be more prone to crime because they are treated differently by their peers, making it more difficult for them to form relationships,” according to a statement released by the journal’s publisher. “Juveniles with unpopular names may also act out because they consciously or unconsciously dislike their names.”
The findings could help officials ” identify individuals at high risk of committing or recommitting crime, leading to more effective and targeted intervention programs,” the authors conclude.
via Boys With Unpopular Names More Likely to Break Law | LiveScience.

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Historic Photos of Chicago Crime The Capone Era


A video book trailer showcasing some of the photography within the new release, the Historic Photos of Chicago Crime: the Capone Era by John Russick.
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The Semiotics Of "Juvenile Delinquent" Vs. "Youthful Offender"

I began my quasi-bogus career as a "juvenile delinquent" at the age of eight when I shoplifted five sticks of red licorice from the local five-and-dime. Later I expanded my imaginary rap sheet when, as an angry fifteen year old, I stalked into the playground behind my old grammar school after supper and broke half a dozen windows. Or more. Maybe a lot more, I don't quite recall. It was after dark, it was winter, the grammar school had been closed for good anyway (it would later be gutted and turned into condos), and there were huge chunks of ice and frozen snow lying around. My vandalism was both convenient and redundant. No one cared about some kid busting up a joint that was gonna be demolished anyway. Still, vandalism is vandalism, and this adventure made the little devil in me very proud. I could now apply to myself that grandiose term "juvenile delinquent". This was a bit of bureaucratese that someone dreamed up in the late forties or thereabouts to make bad kids sound like some kind of official social problem. For all its fancy-ass syllables, "juvenile delinquent" became an iconic phrase, spreading meme-like through the movies and the press in the fifties, sixties, seventies and beyond, gathering images and acolytes as it rolled like a big black tarball down the hills and valleys of the American soul. James Dean. Elvis Presley. Marlon Brando. Vinnie Barbarino. Michael Madsen and Mickey Rourke, even. The Blackboard Jungle. Rebel Without A Cause. The Outsiders. Jailhouse Rock. Switchblades and bicycle chains. Guys with ducktails in leather jackets with upturned collars, smoking, sneering, raising hell. Somehow this pompous euphemism that was meant to elevate the seriousness of teenaged crime merely gave it a legendary gloss. And then, eventually, although I don't remember exactly when it happened - probably during the PC late eighties-early nineties - a new euphemism appeared.

The latest legal moniker for bad kids is "youthful offender". It isn't very Latinate and it doesn't have the musty bureaucratic quality of the older term. It doesn't evoke police stations with file cabinets against the walls and typewriters on the desks, judges sentencing you to the "reformatory", and grimly hysterical mothers in flounced dresses weeping themselves silly. The "youthful" part of it makes the term sound almost hopeful, as if the "offender" deserves to be treated lightly and given another chance. As such, it conjures up, if not police precincts and the courts, the Politically Correct dictatorship of a college campus, in which everything that is said, about anyone, must be neutral and respectful and only blandly descriptive. "Youthful offender" is actually an even purer, fakier euphemism - surely one that can never face up to the reality of fourteen year old sociopaths with souls as old as evil itself. The only good thing about it is that it sounds so lightweight and stupid that no self-respecting "bad kid" would want to claim the title. It almost sounds like something your mother would say. That is, if she were some middle class Pollyanna who smelled nice and belonged to a book club. Nowadays, about the only time you hear even a faint echo of the older term is when Chris Meloni refers to "juvie" in Law And Order: Special Victims - and I'll bet there are more than a few kids who, with puzzled looks on their faces, ask their parents WTF that means.
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How to Love a Juvenile Delinquent

The Behaviors and Saddening Backgrounds of Some Juvenile Delinquents

 

Remembering back to my own childhood, I remember my own thoughts towards or against other children who were classified as juvenile delinquents. For starters, these were definately not the type of children my parents would allow me to hang around with. In general, these are not the type of children I would have wanted to be friends with. A juvenile delinquent, to me, was a bad child who committed crimes and were basically nothing but trouble. Looking back, I can now say, that in many cases a juvenile delinquent is usually someone who is placed in a troubled situation. Is there a difference? In my opinion nothing but trouble means that there are no good qualities involved in a child's characteristics, and troubled situations mean that they consequently are placed in situations by choice, but for various reasons.
Out of college, I interned at the juvenile justice hall and found my beliefs fading, quickly. Although many of the clients, or delinquents, I would work with often tried to "play" the counselor, it became apparent that many of these children were once traumatized or trying to fit in with society. Although many may disagree with my personal observations, I feel that many of these children have great potential for great achievements.
So how did a child end up in the court system, in the first place? I have seen children placed in "juvey hall" for several reasons. Some include minor acts such as egging houses or pumpkin bashing (repeated offenses), or some include major acts such as theft, violence, or other major classified crimes. It is hard to determine why many children choose the paths they choose, however, there are usually underlying reasons to why they travel down the criminal road.
n speaking with many of the children who have committed various crimes, I noticed that quite a few came from abusive households. Some of the horrifying and unsatisfactory behaviors they displayed were actually learned from their mentors or parents. Many of these victims (as I like to call them in some cases) are acting out on abusive behaviors they learned in the household. Some of these children think it is normal to commit acts of violence and deceit because they watched it go on in their own household. It is the same as children in a "so-called" normal household. They may treat people kindly and display only acts of kindness because that is what they grew up knowing and visualizing. So are the juvenile deliquents to blame, or the parents/mentors in the type of situation? Unfortunately, the children are blamed. True, I feel everyone should have consequences for their own actions, but consequences should not include writing people off because of poor choices. Instead of going against these children, as adults, we need to help quide them to a different future.
In some instances, as mentioned above, children act out because of learned behaviors in the household, however this is not always the case. I have also viewed many instances where children committed crimes becuase of acceptance issues and peer pressure. Any parent looking into the past can identify with the fact that being a teenager is not always as easy as it looks. I do not know about you, but I wouldn't go back to my teenage years if given the option. Sure, there is no work and less responsibility, but mentally the peer pressure and constant reminder that you have to prove yourself to your peers can be frustrating and create a bit of anxiety. Many delinquents commit crimes to prove to their peers that they are so-called "cool" or they commit the crimes to instill fear in there peers for acceptance matters. When I actually sat down and had normal conversations with many of the delinquents, I learned they they can be caring individuals and that they want to change, but lack the guidance. They also have many good qualities and talents that they are ashamed to show in fear of rejection.
Now the question is to love or hate the "juvenile delinquent". Some children cannot and will never change, but some children are begging for a change through their mischievious actions rather than words. Many of us, as children, have done horrible things but were fortunate enough not to get caught. We also have had many un-satisfactory actions go un-noticed because of our popularity rankings in society. Many of these children in the court system are just that...children. Many have been searching for acceptance. To love these children will only help them grow. To hate these children will prove their own theories, about themselves and societ, to be true. It is easy to remember the good times, but so often we tend to block the bad times of being a teenager out of our head. We forget that "we" were children once and choose to forget about those children who were sometimes less fortunate than us...in all aspects of life.
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The Future of the Juvenile Justice System

Will You Be Involved?

What does the future have in store for the juvenile justice system? Some may say that more responsibility needs to be placed on the parents, while others say it is society's responsibility to help curb juveniles from entering the justice system. There are several agencies that are involved in constructing an effective juvenile justice system. The responsibility is ever shifting from law makers to psychologists and ultimately the communities. To understand what the future of juvenile justice will be there are several aspects that need to be look at: racial disparity, mental health, prevention programs, and detention or reform programs.
In recent years it is becoming more apparent that minorities are being treated unequally (Issues, 2005). These minorities are receiving harsher penalties and are overly represented within the system. These youth are subjected to more surveillance and are often charged more frequently as adults than their majority counterparts (Issues, 2005). In order for this to change, there needs to be put into practice solutions that prevent biased opinions from entering the court room and policing activities (Issues, 2005). For example, in King County, WA the Oversight Committee was formed. This committee was responsible for coming up with comprehensive principles that promote "culturally relevant training and tools, community involvement in the design and implementation of options, and developing performance measures specific to disproportionality" (King County, 2000). This type of committee is used to deter law enforcement officials from treating minority youths unfairly.
Mental health programs are needed to be made available to all youth and not just those who commit crimes. The system will need to assess juveniles' mental status and treat them accordingly. Too often than not, these juveniles go untreated and are just locked up. There needs to be a shift from just locking up juveniles to properly assessing the underlying mental health issues and provide treatment in a mental health facility (Issues, 2005). Juvenile courts need address these issues using culturally sensitive and comprehensive assessments and treat the youth using family and community based treatment interventions when possible (Issues, 2005).
Prevention programs are very important in decreasing juvenile crime. Children need to know how their actions and behaviors can impact the severity of their punishment from an age as young as seven years old. The more a child is educated and provided alternatives to crime, the less likely s/he is to commit criminal or deviant acts (Champion, 2004). Some programs that have proven to be successful in this area include:
  • D.A.R.E.
  • Boys and Girls' Clubs of America
  • Youth Leadership programs
  • Youth Community Centers
  • Mentoring programs
  • After-school programs
  • Family support services (Issues, 2005).
All these programs provide an outlet for children, especially those who are categorized as underprivileged and do not have adequate parental supervision. Part of the funding should be spent on preventing crime rather than incarceration and interdiction (Issues, 2005).
When it comes to detention and reform programs we have to identify what works and what does not work. Effective detention programs need to be tailored to the type of deviant act being committed. There must be several different programs made readily available that will contribute to the rehabilitation efforts of each juvenile. Some programs that need to be implemented are:
  • Drug and alcohol treatment
  • Family support services
  • Mental Health services (Future, 2005). 
  • These above mentioned programs should be the first step in rehabilitating a juvenile. When a juvenile fails to respond to these types of intervention s/he should then be placed under the care of the juvenile courts. Within the juvenile courts, we should see a decrease in the frequency of incarceration levels and aim more towards community-based rehabilitation programs. The families, as well as the courts, need to be active in the intervention and rehabilitation of youth in order for the juvenile justice system to produce positive changes (Future, 2005).
    In conclusion, there are many factors that need to be looked at when looking to the future of juvenile justice. Racial equality, mental health, prevention, and detention and reform programs are just a few of the areas requiring significant change. The bottom line remains that the community and family need to be involved in order for a successful juvenile justice system to be deployed.
    References
    Champion, D.J. (2004). {Eds}. The juvenile justice system: delinquency, processing, and
    the law. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice-Hall, Inc.
    Future. A comprehensive juvenile justice system: the community role of the juvenile
    court. Retrieved 5 December 2005 from http://www.futureofchildren.org/information2827/information_show.htm?doc_id=77853.
    Issues. Coalition for juvenile justice: issues and facts. Retrieved 5 December 2005 from
    http://www.juvjustice.org/media/issues.html#three .
    King County. Juvenile justice operational master plan. Retrieved 5 December 2005 from
    http://www.metrokc.gov/exec/jjomp/ .
     

 

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House Arrest: Juvenile Injustice in Texas Part 2

 
In for Murder
"I cried pretty much every night," says Jason of his long and lonely incarceration. "I tried to be a man, and be strong. I don't want you to think I was a wimp or nothing, but I was scared. I was only allowed to talk to my mom on the phone every other day for 30 minutes. I wasn't allowed to see her at all."
But despite it all, Jason managed to keep his boyish sense of humor.
"I was the youngest kid in there," he says. "I was nervous about telling people what they said I did. And because I didn't want nobody messing with me, I told them I was in for murder."
Imitating himself, and assuming a funny tough-guy persona, he said he told them, "I killed a man just to watch him die - 'cause I like blood.'"
One good thing about Jason's ten business days in detention - he took and passed a full battery of psychiatric evaluations and tests with flying colors. The assessing counselor, Dr. Mona Cox, said Jason is a perfectly normal boy.
"There are no indications of any kind that he has any deviant sexual thoughts whatsoever," Dr. Cox wrote in her report to the court. "In my professional opinion, he is neither capable of, nor responsible for, any form of deviant sexual aggression."
'You Think He's Innocent'
But the important players in this drama don't seem to be listening to Dr. Cox. After his ten business days of detention, Jason went back before the court.
Even though they had more than two weeks to get it done, Child Protective Services of Texas told the judge they still needed time to interview and evaluate Jason's younger brother Sam to determine if Jason has sexually abused him.

Once again, it was a mere hearing - no trial and no entering of a verdict by Jason. In fact, there was still not one word from Jason. Nearly a month had gone by since Jason had been arrested. He had spent over two weeks in jail, and he had still not even had charges formally filed against him, much less been given an opportunity to stand before the judge and say, "I didn't do it."
Mike Carlisle, a new attorney hired by Jason's grandfather to replace Yarborough, whom Jason's parents had fired, objected repeatedly during the follow-up hearing. The prosecutor, CPS officer, and judge all kept referring to "the victim," and Carlisle had to keep interjecting that Monica is an alleged victim.
"It was obvious that everyone was just assuming that Jason was guilty," says Carlisle. "The prosecutor hadn't even filed any charges yet, and they've already got the boy convicted in their minds."
But Carlisle's objections and arguments went mostly unheeded. The judge ultimately decided that Jason would be released pending his trial, which the judge ordered must take place within 60 days. And Jason's release would be subject to 26 conditions.
And the conditions imposed by the judge were draconian, to say the least. Among the rules:
1. Jason must be removed from his parents and live with his grandparents in Dallas County, Texas and they will serve as his court-appointed custodians.
2. Jason must enroll in an alternative school rather than a regular middle school.
3. He will not be allowed to participate in any extracurricular activities - no football, no band (Jason plays the saxophone), and no track.
4. Jason must not at any time be in the presence of a child under 13-years-of-age (male or female), including his own brother.
5. Jason may not be out of the sight of a supervising adult for more than ten minutes at a time.
6. Jason will be under house arrest and will not be allowed to go anyplace, at any time, other than school or home, unless written approval has been granted by the court at least 24 hours prior.
7. Even at home, Jason will not be allowed to go into the backyard or into the garage, nor is he allowed to have any windows open.
8. To monitor Jason's compliance, he must wear an ankle bracelet at all times, and he must report to a probation officer once a week.
When the defense attorney objected to the outrageousness of such terms of release for a child who has not even been tried, he was over-ruled. After the hearing, when Jason's grandfather Darryl asked the judge why the boy had to have so many restrictions if Jason was going to be under his supervision, the judge answered, "because you think he's innocent."
Little Boy - Adult Crisis
"It's like still being in jail, except I get to wear my own clothes," says Jason of life under the judge's terms. "I can't do hardly anything. But at least I don't got to listen to people keep calling me a rapist and a child molester all the time like in jail."
Jason tries to remain strong and act nonchalant about his condition - not wanting to appear to be a kid. But he is a kid. And the stress is taking its toll.
Jason reluctantly admits that he has nightmares at night - recurring dreams that he is found guilty and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
"I didn't want you to think I was a little wimp because I get scared at night," he says. "But yeah, I don't like to go to bed 'cause I get scared. I miss my mom and my brother. And I keep thinking I could go to prison and I didn't even do anything."
Jason guardedly admits that he doesn't like to go to sleep without some music playing on his CD player, the light of his computer monitor on his face, and, preferably, another person in the room. His tough-guy persona notwithstanding, it is obvious to anyone who spends a little time with him - this is a little boy. And he's facing a very adult crisis.

"He tries to be upbeat and happy most of the time," says Darryl, Jason's grandfather and court-appointed custodian. "But he can also get pretty sullen. We do the best we can, but ultimately all we can do is wait for the trial and hope for the best. We can't tell him it's all better until it is all better."
The transition to Jason's highly restricted house arrest lifestyle has not been easy on Darryl and his wife Joy, Jason's grandmother, either. Jason has been acting out his anger and fear about his situation onto his grandparents.
"He's become very rebellious," says Joy. "He talks back, even to the point of becoming abusive. He refuses to do chores, like washing the dishes or cleaning his room. He won't pick up his towels off the bathroom floor, and he keeps making long distance calls to his friends back home without asking first."
Most distressing of all to Jason's grandparents, he has become increasingly dishonest. "He's started to lie a lot," says Darryl. "Not about anything major, just little things, like whether or not he's refilled the ice trays. He seems to lie about things he knows he'll get caught lying about."
But through it all, Darryl and Joy are remaining patient.
"He didn't used to be like this," explains Joy. "We know he's just taking out his feelings on all of us, so we try to be understanding. It's hard, but we know he's going through hell."
New Hope
Several months later, well past the 60 day deadline the judge gave for the trial to start, Jason went to yet another hearing. The good news for Jason's family is that Child Protective Services of Texas reported to the court that they closed their investigation, having found "no evidence or indications of abuse" by Jason of his little brother Sam. They also agreed with Dr. Cox, the counselor who determined that Jason was unlikely to have abused anyone.
Another bit of favorable fortune is that Jason's former principal and several of his teachers at his old school in his hometown called his probation officer in Dallas County, Texas to report that Jason has always been a good student and has never been in any kind of trouble at school. They even told the officer that they do not believe Jason to be capable of the crimes of which he has been accused.
But once again, the court and the prosecutor seemed to be deaf to the voices of the experts. This last hearing was to possibly modify or remove the conditions of Jason's pre-trial release. Jason, his family, and his attorney all hoped that Jason would be allowed to return home to his parents and brother, and that the severe restrictions would all be removed. But it didn't happen.
The judge ordered that Jason is to remain in the custody of his grandparents in Dallas County and to remain under house arrest with the ankle bracelet.
He was, however, allowed to leave the alternative school and to enroll in regular school, and he was also granted the right to play football and track and to try-out for the band.
He was now allowed to have his brother visit on weekends with his parents, and to leave house arrest from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. every Saturday. Jason may also go into the backyard and garage now, as long as he is back indoors by 6:30 p.m. every night.
Lacking Credibility
The real bombshell, however, came when the prosecutor announced that he had finally filed charges against Jason - Sexual Assault, a first degree felony.
Everyone was expecting that Jason would be charged with the second degree felony, Indecency with a Child (by Contact), because there had been no allegation of actual penetration - a condition for the charge of Sexual Assault under Texas law.
But much to the surprise of everyone, the prosecutor introduced another sworn affidavit, this one alleging that Jason had committed yet another rape of a child.
The new claim was by Cassandra, the 12-year-old girl who had previously said Jason told her about having abused 9-year-old Monica.
Cassandra claims that Jason coerced her to perform oral sex on him, and to insert her index finger into his anus, until he ejaculated. She claims this incident took place "on the side of the road" in front of Jason's house, in the early afternoon on a weekend. And she alleges that Jason threatened that if she didn't comply, "a tall man in black would come and kill Sam" (Jason's 10-year-old brother).
Although rural, Jason's neighborhood is hardly without the occasional passing car or person. The roadside is hardly an ideal venue for a sex crime. Like the other claims of sexual abuse, this story would seem absurd on its face to most observers.
Additionally, Jason's lawyer Carlisle discovered that Monica, the 9-year-old alleged victim, had previously accused four other boys of similar crimes in the past year. And Cassandra, the newest alleged victim, has also accused her 17-year-old brother of sexually molesting her.
Most damaging of all to the prosecution's case, the specific details of the previous allegations that Jason abused Monica were beginning to unravel in their retellings. Monica and Cassandra's stories kept changing slightly. Even the judge finally was forced to state in open court that the prosecutor's witnesses are "beginning to lack credibility."
The Case Stalls
The real question most outside observer of this mess would ask is - why has the case stalled?
Mike Carlisle, Jason's defense attorney, apparently worked out some kind of a deal with the prosecutor, without consulting either Jason or his parents, and apparently without understanding the way the system works in Dallas County.
"Jason's probation officer was asked for her evaluation at the hearing," says Darryl, Jason's grandfather. "Both the prosecutor and Carlisle were expecting the evaluator to tell the court that Jason was accepted into the [Dallas County Juvenile Sex Offender Treatment Services] counseling program. But the probation officer didn't know what they were talking about."
Lisa Byrd, Jason's probation officer in Dallas County, explained to the court that no one had asked her to perform an evaluation of Jason for the juvenile sex offender program. She told the judge that she was under the impression that all she was supposed to do was assess whether Jason was complying with the terms of his pre-trial release - and he was.
Byrd explained to the judge and everyone else present at the hearing that she cannot and will not even attempt to put Jason into the juvenile sex offender counseling program, because he hasn't been found guilty of anything - or for that matter, even tried yet. In other words, it would be contrary to established procedure.
Not surprisingly, Jason's parents became very unhappy with Carlisle. It seemed as though his interest in helping their son had faltered.
"It was like he had got his money and just wasn't interested anymore," says Jason's mother. "We paid him $1,500 all up-front, and after that first hearing he just started making these weird deals with the prosecutor, without even talking to us, and meanwhile, Jason is still in Dallas."
When Mark, Jason's dad, confronted Carlisle about the family's concerns that the case had stalled - after all, the 60 day deadline the judge had given for the trial to start had long since past - Carlisle became irate and started yelling at Mark.
"I was shocked," says Mark. "I've never seen a man act like that in his own office."
'I'll Bring Your Boy Home'
So Jason's mother called a new lawyer. The new attorney, Kevin Fuller, was floored that Jason was under house arrest and had an ankle bracelet without even having been tried. Fuller said there is no reason for Jason to still be in Dallas County after so many months, and to be strung along so long without a trial.
"Deborah, I want $900 to get this case solved," Fuller says he told Deborah. "But I don't want it right now. I want to show you that I do as I say and earn my money. Pay me after it's done. I'll bring your boy home."
Looking for Answers
So what do we have here? A 13-year-old boy who could be anybody's kid - without a trial or even formal charges - is accused, harassed for a confession by an adult juvenile detention officer with a conflict of interest, is arrested, is held in jail for over two weeks, loses his family home, is forced to move out of the town of his birth, is publicly humiliated and embarrassed, and is forced to watch his parents spend thousands of dollars on defense lawyers - all because two younger kids and a dad who knows how to work the system say (with no physical evidence) that the kid did something.
And what they said he did is absurd on its face. We are supposed to believe that this shy pubescent, in a house full of people, abandoned the brand new video games he just got for Christmas, walked into the living room of his home, where a little girl from across the street just happened inexplicably be alone and demanded a sexual favor - by threatening not the girl, but his own brother, with violence.
Then we are supposed to believe that the 9-year-old alleged victim didn't notice the obvious presence of pubic hair, nor whether or not the boy ejaculated.
Furthermore, we are supposed to accept that he forced another girl to perform oral sex on him and to insert her finger into his anus - again while threatening a third person, not the alleged victim, with violence - while standing on the side of the road in front of his house in broad daylight on a Saturday. And this time he was supposed to have ejaculated. But somehow, no one saw anything.
Even if this story were assumed to be true, the girl was 12 and Jason is 13 - hardly a case of child molesting.
This could be your kid. It could be your neighbor's kid - any kid.
But how can this happen? Aren't there laws to protect us from arbitrary arrest and detention? Aren't we innocent until proven guilty? Don't we get a speedy trial? What about the Constitution?
The prosecutors, judge and alleged victims' families all declined to be interviewed for this story.
The judge has said repeatedly throughout the ordeal that Jason, as a juvenile, "has no civil rights."
Internet research on the subject is confusing - some data seems to say that yes, he does have civil rights. Other data seems to say the opposite.
But the bottom line is, at least in Anderson County, Texas, the judge and the other county officials do not treat accused kids as innocent until proven guilty, do not either file charges or release the child and do not grant a speedy trial to accused children.
To the outside observer, it seems that all one has to do to ruin someone's life in Anderson County, Texas is get two or more people to accuse a kid of something he or she didn't do, and the kid goes to jail - with no trial, no formal charges, and with hugely restrictive conditions for his or her release pending a trial that may never come.
Parents could be ordered to leave their hometown forever, sell the family home at a huge loss, and give up their child to be raised by someone else. And this all seems to be routine procedure for the court system in this East Texas county.
Is it the norm everywhere in Texas? Let's hope not.
But why do this? It seems tragically absurd to the outside observer, and even to at least two lawyers in Anderson County. But why can't the judge and prosecutor see it this way?
Perhaps that this is a small, rural, county plays a role? Ultimately, no one really knows why. It just seems to be the norm for this particular court system.
Why would two little girls lie and make up a story about Jason, and get him in so much trouble? Again, who knows?
As noted above, one of Jason's lawyers found that alleged victim Monica had accused four other boys of the same thing in the past year. And 12-year-old Cassandra, who is alleging the roadside rendezvous, has also accused her older brother of molesting her.
Could it be, as some have suggested, that someone else victimized both girls, yet agreed that Jason would make a better target? Who really knows?
But ultimately, does it really matter? Even if he were guilty of the offenses, most would agree that of course Jason should still be granted the right to know the exact charges against him, enter a plea and be heard by the judge and be presumed innocent as he awaits his trial.
Furthermore, most would question the justice in putting an un-charged, un-tried child into a counseling program for sex offenders.
A Spark of New Hope
So what's next for Jason? It looks like his new lawyer, Fuller, is going to finally get the ball rolling for him.
As of this writing, Fuller has already spoken with the judge to get an update on the status of the case and he's promised to get Jason off house arrest and back home to his parents as soon as possible. Jason remains cautiously optimistic about his prospects.
Over breakfast, Jason tries to act nonchalant and adult, assuming a tough-guy tone about the new development - not an easy task when you've unwittingly got a milk mustache.
"Oh yeah," he says. "I'll be going home soon. I know this guy [his new lawyer Fuller] can do it. He seems to know what he's talking about. And he says he feels certain I'll be proved innocent when we go to trial."
To most people, the real tragedy of this story would seem to be that a probably innocent boy's life has been turned upside down, and the system - supposedly designed to protect the innocent - is the culprit.
Jason's parents and grandparents have even been dragged into it and have suffered both emotionally and financially.
"We can't sue anyone," says Jason's mother, Deborah. "All the attorneys we've talked to tell us that there's nothing we can do about any of it in court. And even if we could, nobody has any money we could win anyway. We just have to live with it."
And live with it Jason did - ankle bracelet and all.
But finally, in December, after more than six months of waiting and worrying, Jason finally got to go back home to his parents and brother.
All the charges have been dropped as the district attorney decided not to prosecute.
 
Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents - Our Mission is to do better!

House Arrest: Juvenile Injustice in Texas

 
READER ADVISORY: The following story includes graphic descriptions of alleged sexual behavior. Reader discretion is advised. To protect the privacy of individuals described, and because it involves juveniles, names and other identifying details in this account have been changed. All other information in this story is completely accurate. Meet Jason. He's your typical, average, run-of-the-mill 13-year-old boy. He's handsome but shy, with a warm, slightly mischievous smile, curly black hair and deep brown eyes.
He likes football, skateboarding, go-carts, video games and sports cars. He could be the boy next door. He could be the boy down the block, or across the street. He could even be your own kid.
So why is a county in Texas calling him a rapist?
Late one June afternoon, Jason's neighbor, Jim Dixson, came to Jason's rural East Texan home. He urgently summoned Jason and his parents and asked them to come over to his house to discuss a private matter. Then Dixson accused Jason of having coerced Dixson's 9-year-old daughter into masturbating him the previous December.
"He kept saying, 'You did it! You did it! Didn't you? Don't deny it!'" says Jason. "I kept telling him I didn't do anything, but he wouldn't listen, he kept saying, 'Are you calling my daughter a liar?'"
After a long period of irate accusations by Dixson and adamant denials, Jason got up and left - refusing to be abused any longer.
"I told him, 'Yeah! I'm calling your daughter a liar!' and went home," says Jason. "My parents stayed and kept talking to him."
After more than an hour of discussion, Jason's parents managed to convince Dixson not to call the police, on the condition that they get Jason into some kind of counseling program.

"We believed Jason when he said he didn't do anything," says Deborah, Jason's mother. "We didn't think he needed any counselor, but we wanted to keep the peace, and avoid any more trouble. This just seemed like the best way to do it."
That night Deborah called her father in Dallas and told him what happened. She asked him to please help find the boy a counselor, to make Dixson happy.
"I was pretty upset right from the get-go," says Darryl, Deborah's father and Jason's grandfather. "I just assumed Jason must've done it. I didn't know what to do, but I said I'd help find a counselor like they asked me to. I sure didn't trust that Dixson was going to keep his word about not filing charges."
Darryl's prediction proved accurate. Not two weeks after the initial confrontation and accusation, a private investigator, hired by Dixson, came to Jason's Anderson County, Texas home in the company of a deputy sheriff. They had come to arrest Jason for raping a child.
"I couldn't believe it," says Deborah. "Dixson had broken his word, just like Daddy said he would. They were going to take my son to jail!"
Deborah and Mark, Jason's parents, managed to persuade the deputy sheriff to allow them to bring Jason to the county juvenile detention center in the morning, and surrender him there.
"The private investigator told us right there at the door that there was no way he believed Jason did what they said he did, because he had investigated the case," says Deborah. "But he said he had no choice, it was his job."
The following morning, that late day in June, Deborah and Mark took Jason and surrendered him to the authorities.
It was one of the hardest things a mother and father could ever have to do - give their child to the state because he was accused of a crime he didn't commit. But they did it. Then they hired a lawyer.
The Drama Begins
Texas law requires that when a juvenile is held he or she must be granted a "detention hearing" within two days of the arrest. It was at Jason's detention hearing that the drama - which Jason's family says seemed to alternate between farce and tragedy - began.
The only person who spoke before the judge at the hearing was a representative from Child Protective Services of Texas - not the prosecutor, not Jason's defense lawyer, not Jason's parents, and not even Jason.
No one even read aloud the specifics of the allegations made about Jason. Jason was never even given an opportunity to look the judge in the eye and say, "I didn't do it."
The judge, prosecutor, and CPS officer always referred to Jason's alleged crime only in general terms, with the specific details left a mystery even to Jason, and Jason's family and friends who were present all agree that it just seemed to be assumed that Jason did the crime.
The CPS representative asked the judge to order that Jason continue to be incarcerated in the county juvenile detention center for ten "business" days so they can "make an evaluation," and because they wanted to make sure Jason had not sexually assaulted his 10-year-old brother, Sam. (Keep in mind that no one was alleging that Jason had ever harmed his brother, or even had a predilection for boys).
To the horror of Jason and his parents, his defense attorney, Gene Yarborough, told the judge, "We agree to the ten day incarceration."
"I was in shock!" says Deborah. "I yelled out right there in the courtroom that we did no such thing. The judge ignored me and ordered Jason kept in jail for ten more days, so that CPS could do their thing. I was just floored!"
Yarborough explained that he believed this was the best approach at that time. He felt that this judge almost automatically sends children back to detention in the detention hearing regardless of testimony and evidence. He didn't think it was wise at that point to antagonize the judge in any way. Nevertheless, Yarborough acted contrary to the expressed wishes of Jason and his family, the clients, so Deborah fired him on the spot.
The judge also ordered that Jason and his family move out of their small Anderson County, Texas town and never come near the alleged victim or her family ever again. To obey this judgment, Deborah and Mark sold their home for half its market value and moved to a neighboring town. Jason will most likely never see the home where he grew up ever again.
It was two days later, while reviewing the documents provided to Jason's family by the prosecutor, that Jason finally heard the specifics of what he was supposed to have done. There were three sworn affidavits.
The first statement was by the alleged victim, 9-year-old Monica. In what would be a bad episode of a sitcom if it weren't real, Monica wrote that on the last Christmas morning - while Jason's parents were in their bedroom and while Jason's 10-year-old brother Sam was in an adjoining room that has no door to separate the rooms - that Jason approached her in the living room of his home, exposed his penis, and demanded that she masturbate him. She claims that Jason told her that if she didn't comply that a "little man dressed in black" would come and "kill Sam" (Jason's little brother).
Despite the on-the-face absurdity of the claim, the prosecution also seems not to have noticed that the 9-year-old alleged victim made no mention of alleged semen or of an alleged ejaculation by Jason, and made no mention of pubic hair. In fact, Monica's statement only described Jason's genitals as "oval" - nothing more.
In short, her description of the alleged event sounded very general and was missing what would seem to be likely details.

The second complaint substantially contradicted the first one. A 12-year-old girl named Cassandra wrote it. In what one would think would surely be dismissed as hearsay in an adult legal proceeding, Cassandra claimed Jason described the incident with Monica to her - but Cassandra got the alleged facts all wrong.
Cassandra claimed the alleged incident between Jason and Monica took place at a time other than Christmas (although she couldn't say exactly when it occurred), and that it happened in a tool shed.
She also alleged that Jason told Monica that a "tall man dressed in black" would come and kill Jason's little brother Sam unless Monica complied. (Curiously, this version of the allegation did mention pubic hair, and alleged that Jason ejaculated - although there was no description of Jason's genitals in this statement either.)
Jim Dixson, the alleged victim Monica's father, had made the last written statement. He essentially admitted that he had refused to accept Jason's denials of abuse and had repeatedly browbeat Jason for over an hour.
But he also claims Jason finally confessed that he did it.
"That was a total lie," says Jason. "I got tired of being yelled at, and I got up and left." Jason's mother and father say the same thing.
"He never said he did it," says Deborah. "He's been saying all along that he never did anything to that girl."
Jason's parents also discovered that Dixson is employed as a Juvenile Detention Officer with a neighboring county's sheriff's department.
"This is a man who should know better than to scream and yell at a kid to try to force a confession," says Mark, Jason's dad. "It's also a man who knows exactly how to play the system."
 Also in the documents provided to Jason and his parents by the prosecutor, Deborah and Mark discovered that CPS (for whose investigation Jason continued to be incarcerated for ten business days) had some fundamental errors in their files - they had Jason's age as 14 years, and alleged victim Monica's age as 7 years. (Jason is 13, and was at the time of the alleged abuse. Monica was 9.) They also had addresses and details of the alleged crime wrong.
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Trying Teens Can brain science help determine the fates of adolescents accused of violent crimes?

Are teen brains young enough that teens shouldn't be tried as adults?

Assessing Risk Assessment
The prefrontal region of the brain helps to manage reasoning, impulse control and judgment—traits that would help prevent someone from committing murder. Brain imaging studies that tracked subjects from ages 4 to 21 found that the prefrontal cortex is one of the last brain areas to fully develop.
But if an immature prefrontal cortex accounts for adolescent behavior, children should take even more risks than teens. Instead, risk-taking behavior peaks during adolescence. So other neurological factors must be at play.
To account for risky behavior, science looks to the brain’s limbic system. Located in both hemispheres, it affects what BJ Casey, director of Cornell University’s Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology in New York City, refers to as “desire, fight and flight.”
She provides a model that accounts for teens’ willingness to drive while drunk, have sex without a condom and take a gun to school and shoot a classmate. While impulse control improves linearly with age as the prefrontal cortex develops, the limbic system matures around puberty. So humans may be most prone to risky behavior during adolescence, until the prefrontal cortex catches up. Though most teens have not had their mug shot taken before the high school prom, their parents, teachers and coaches can attest to their emotionally-driven behavior. “In terms of emotional reactivity, it does appear to be enhanced during the teen years,” says Casey.
Impulsive and risky adolescent behavior may actually be a welcome trait from an evolutionary perspective, Casey points out. Leaving the family as a teenager was necessary to find a mate. And following sex drives allows for procreation and the passing on of genes.
But this hereditary process may have handicapped Brandon in light of his parents’ genes and their emotionally-driven behavior, detailed in local newspaper articles this spring. He frequently witnessed his parents fighting during his first few years. And by age 6, they had separated. Custody changed between his parents several times, with some agreements conditioned on their refraining from drug or alcohol use in his presence. His father pled no contest to a domestic battery charge against Brandon’s mother in 2000. Yet according to court records, Brandon’s father claimed that his wife pursued Brandon and him in a car chase, nearly forcing them into oncoming traffic. Recognizing these first-hand experiences of violence in Brandon’s family and the enhanced emotional state apparent in many teens, Casey calls Brandon’s formative years “a double whammy for this child.”
Science Applied
Opinion at E.O. Green Junior High, Brandon and Larry’s school, partially reflects what science has revealed about adolescent thought and behavior. Half the faculty and 130 of the 1100 students there signed separate petitions asking the district attorney to transfer Brandon’s case to juvenile court. In addition, 27 lesbian, gay and other civil rights organizations collectively released a statement on April 14 that said, in part, “We refuse to let our sense of outrage blind us to the fact that the suspect is only 14 years old.”
This public plea cannot determine innocence or guilt in court, but it could become a factor during sentencing. Quest, Brandon’s lawyer, could argue that because of his age, this teenager should not suffer the same punishment as an adult who committed first degree murder. After all, had this murder occurred less than three weeks earlier, this debate would be moot. California district attorneys can charge children 14 or older as adults without petitioning a juvenile judge. But Brandon turned 14 on January 24—less than three weeks before killing Larry.
Bennett, the developmental cognitive scientist from the University of California at Santa Barbara, does not believe that science should make a black-and-white blanket determination of what age is appropriate for a defendant to be considered an adult. “It’s never black and white for us,” says Bennett, speaking as a scientist. “But what we do know is that it takes much longer to become an adult than many of us originally thought.”
Stephen Morse, a professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert in criminal and mental health law, also recognizes science’s current limits. “All science can show us is the average differing capacities of adults and adolescents,” he says. “But whether that is enough to change the law is a legal question.”
Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents - Our Mission is to do better!

Trying Teens

Can brain science help determine the fates of adolescents accused of violent crimes?

Are teen brains young enough that teens shouldn't be tried as adults?

Larry King, 15, is dead. And he had a crush on his killer.
Brandon McInerney shot his admirer twice in the head on February 12, 2008, as they and their middle-school classmates worked on assignments in their first-period English class.
Larry’s peers in Oxnard, Calif. said that he had begun wearing makeup, jewelry and high-heeled boots in previous weeks. And two students attest to separate incidents the day before the shooting when Brandon rejected Larry’s attempts to flirt with him—one time cursing at Larry before walking away. Rumors that Brandon was a homosexual surfaced after Larry, who was openly gay, began coming on to him. Known not to back down from a fight, Brandon threatened Larry, according to friends, in the days leading up to the shooting.
But at least some of Brandon’s friends wonder whether he was fully aware of his crime. “Everyone knows this was wrong,” classmate Averi Laskey told the Los Angeles Times. “You don’t think of your friend as being a killer. You don’t think of your friend as a hater. That’s what’s weird about this,” she continued. “I don’t think he quite knew what he was doing.”
The Ventura County district attorney thinks Brandon knew exactly what he was doing and has filed murder charges in adult criminal court. If convicted as an adult, this 14-year-old eighth-grader with no criminal history faces 51 years to life in prison. But if Brandon is tried and convicted in juvenile court, he would be released no later than age 25, and possibly earlier.
Brandon’s case is part of a much larger trend across the country in which juveniles are increasingly being tried as adults. This trend challenges social science theories that teenagers are more likely to become hardened criminals if tried and incarcerated in the adult justice system. This recidivism, or relapse, data have been well known for years. But now attorneys who defend adolescents accused of violent crimes are also tapping into a growing body of evidence from neuroscience. They point to studies suggesting that teenagers’ brains make them more prone to risky, impulsive behavior than adults.
“Science—and this is a good thing—has really shown so much about human behavior and development. And it has shed light on behavior and the factors that lead to violent behavior,” says Kathleen Heide, a criminologist at the University of South Florida who has evaluated over 100 teenagers charged with murder. “But our notions of responsibility are 100 years old. And they’re colliding.”
Brandon McInerney’s case may become an important test of whether science can ever reverse the rush to try violent juveniles as adults. In a June 24 court filing, his lawyer, William Quest, cited recent studies about adolescent brain development to demonstrate that Brandon should be tried as a juvenile. The Ventura County Superior Court has scheduled a July 24 hearing to determine if the defense’s strategy will be allowed.
Judging the Past
Previous trials give Brandon’s lawyer reason for optimism. Similar brain research was successfully introduced during the sentencing hearing of another Ventura County case, for an 18-year-old convicted several years ago of knifing someone in a fight. The court sentenced the defendant to seven years in a state prison—a lighter punishment than adults receive for that type of crime.
A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling may also help. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 5-4 majority that outlawed the execution of anyone under 18 in 2005, wrote that “it is less supportable to conclude that even a heinous crime committed by a juvenile is evidence of irretrievably depraved character.” The court cited teens’ tendency to succumb to peer pressure, their incomplete character formation and medical and social-science evidence that demonstrate “a lack of maturity and underdeveloped sense of responsibility.”
Experts say an adolescent’s brain undergoes three well-documented changes that may account for the evolution in behavior seen during adolescence. But they caution against inferring a direct link between these structural changes and behavior associated with the teen years.
First, a developing brain prunes unused connections, a process that continues until about age 16. The biggest changes are found in areas of the brain that deal with such higher-order thoughts as abstract concepts, social interaction and a sense of morality—some characteristics that distinguish human beings from other species.
Another key change during this time is the increased connections between the emotional centers of the brain and its prefrontal region, the part that can dampen impulsive or emotional thoughts and actions.
And most importantly, myelin, a layer of fats and proteins, coats and insulates nerve fibers. This process, which continues into the teenage years and perhaps beyond, helps explain why adult brains often trump adolescent brains. Like insulation added to an electrical wire, it allows more information to be transferred and at a faster rate. Myelin boosts transmission rates between neurons by at least a factor of 10, resulting in more efficient communication between brain regions.
Although a six-year-old brain has grown to about 90 percent of its total size, an adolescent brain is still not fully mature. Scientists used to think that a 15-year-old brain would function like an adult brain. But MRI studies, such as those by Beatriz Luna, a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh, revealed that while an adolescent may behave like an adult, the adolescent’s brain could still function like that of a child. “Some days, an adolescent’s brain is firing on all cylinders and is cognitively like an adult’s,” says Craig Bennett, a developmental cognitive scientist at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “But if the brain is taxed, it could regress and looks like an adolescent brain in terms of behavior.”
This is like a baby learning to walk. On a good day, the young one can walk across the room. But the following day the baby resorts to crawling again.
A 2005 presentation at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society’s annual meeting by Craig Bennett and Abigail Baird, a psychologist at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, demonstrates a lack of synchronization between adolescent thoughts and feelings. When asked if safe activities like eating a salad were good ideas, adolescent brain activity was comparable to that of an adult. But when asked if dangerous activities such as swimming with sharks were a good idea, adolescents took longer than adults to respond. “In terms of processing 150 milliseconds is an eternity,” said Bennett, regarding the time difference between the response rate of adolescents and adults. He thinks adults took less time because they used more brain regions associated with emotional response.
Had Brandon impulsively shot Larry during their verbal spat a day earlier, these neuroscience findings would boost Brandon’s lawyer’s attempts to have him tried in juvenile court. But Brandon went home, acquired a gun and brought it to school the next day, demonstrating that he had planned his act.
Still, the question remains: Even if Brandon intended to kill Larry, did his brain appreciate the risk that came with murdering his peer?
Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents - Our Mission is to do better!

Two experts debate whether juveniles should be tried and sentenced as adults.

MARGARET WARNER: For more on whether juveniles should be tried and sentenced as adults, we turn to Marsha Levick, legal director for the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia. She is also an adjunct professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania and at Temple University. And Paul Pfingst, the district attorney for San Diego County. Welcome to you both.
Marsha Levick, should a youngster the age of Nathaniel Brazill, charged with the serious crime he was charged with, be tried as an adult?
MARSHA LEVICK: Certainly, I think not. The reason why I say that is that we make a mistake. It's almost as if we've lost our bearings in jumping to the conclusion that 13-year-olds are simply small adults. They're not small adults. And it's incorrect as well to jump to the conclusion that when a juvenile commits a heinous crime like the murder in this case, that they're somehow magically transformed overnight into an adult.
Nathaniel Brazill, when he committed this crime at 13, had all of the same cognitive, intellectual, neurological, physical and emotional limitations and in some respects incapacities that any child has. To consider that he can be held as culpable as a 20-year-old, a 30-year-old, a 40-year-old, for the crime that was committed, I think, does a great disservice to the youth of this country.
MARGARET WARNER: And to you, Mr. District Attorney, you feel otherwise.
PAUL PFINGST: Well, I do. I don't think anyone is misled, Margaret, about what it's like to be a youngster. District attorneys, jurors, judges -- they're all parents, too. We understand what being a 13- year-old is like and that a 13- year-old is not just a little adult, he's a 13-year-old. However, the bullet that came out of that gun that killed a teacher came from a 13-year-old, and nonetheless the teacher is dead and the family grieves. So it's absolutely necessary for society to protect itself against people who kill, rape, or do other serious crimes, even if those people are 13, 14, 15, 16 or 17 years of age.
MARGARET WARNER: But, Mr. Pfingst, staying with you, why does trying them in an adult court and sentencing them under adult sentencing... why does that protect society better?
PAUL PFINGST: In most juvenile systems throughout the country, the juvenile courts lose jurisdiction of the young person at age 21. So if a 17-year-old, for example, commits murder and is convicted of that murder, he can only be sentenced to prison or to a juvenile facility until the age of 21, at which time he has to be let go. So he would only serve four years for murder whether he killed one, two, three or five people.
The same thing for a 13-year- old -- at the age of 21-- in some states at the age of 25 -- then the juvenile has to be released. Most people feel that a three-, four-, five-, or six-year sentence for murder is simply inadequate. It doesn't do enough to protect the public and it doesn't bring a sense of justice to the people who are grieving the loss of a son or a daughter or a father or a mother.
A severe crime
MARGARET WARNER: Ms. Levick, what about that point that the juvenile justice system and the sentencing is inadequate to deal with such a severe crime?
MARSHA LEVICK: Well, I think that we need to consider what the purpose of our juvenile justice system and criminal justice system is in this country. There's a lot of talk that I hear from district attorneys that goes to this issue of protection of the public and public safety. But there's really uncontradicted research at this point that demonstrates that there's a much greater risk of reoffending by anyone -- any offender, young offender or adult offender -- who comes out of the adult criminal justice system, and a significantly lower risk of reoffending for juveniles who are in fact rehabilitated and treated through the juvenile justice system.
The Miami Herald did a recent study, which shows there's a 35 percent greater risk of reoffending for juveniles who were being prosecuted and convicted as adults in Florida. So I think, first of all, the concern about public safety is simply misplaced. Public safety and rehabilitation are really opposite sides of the same coin. And if we are concerned about protecting the public and ensuring that we don't have greater criminal conduct being committed in the future, then what we should be concerned about is rehabilitating these young people. The way to do that is in the juvenile justice system.
The other point that I would make is that I am also a parent of a 14-year-old. And the notion that sending any 13 or 14-year-old away for eight years of their lives -- for the next eight years of one of my child's lives -- and that that would not be a sufficient amount of time, that's an extraordinary amount of time for a person that age to allow them to get the treatment and to ensure the potential for rehabilitation. I think when we talk about 13-year-olds and 17-year-olds in the same breath, we sometimes confuse ourselves as well. Nathaniel Brazill is 13. He was 13 when the crime was committed. He is 14 now.
He is not a child for whom there is not sufficient time in the juvenile justice system through 21 to address society's concerns for retribution, for incapacitation, and most importantly for rehabilitation.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Pfingst?
PAUL PFINGST: Where we part company on this is really very simple. We know that if this youngster goes to prison for the next 20 or 25 years, he will not be committing other murders during those 20 or 25 years. Rehabilitation sometimes work, but often does not. I go to court and my deputies go to court everyday, and we have people coming to court every day who have been through the juvenile rehabilitation system and have subsequently killed, robbed, raped, or committed other serious, horrible crimes that victimize sometimes the most defenseless people inside of our society.
What we have to do as a community is recognize that some crimes are just so horrible in their consequences and so painful and long in their duration that a six- or seven-year sentence is simply not adequate to deal with that crime. It is hard for all of us to put a youngster in prison, but sometimes the consequences are: to let that youngster out puts other people at risk and can create other victims. And that's what's important here, is that we have made some decisions that are very difficult decisions for any society, for any group of people to make, but I think they're the right decisions. Sometimes the crime is too terrible.
Different facilities
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Mr. Pfingst, though, clarify something for us. Are you saying that when a child or youngster is sentenced as an adult, he should be sent to the kind of incarceration that doesn't have any rehabilitative function? What are you talking about… adult prison or a special kind of juvenile facility?
PAUL PFINGST: For example, in California, when a youngster -- a teenager who is not an adult -- is convicted, they do not go to an adult prison. Throughout the states of this nation, the youngsters do not go to an adult prison until they are over the age of 18, or in some states, 19. They go to a juvenile facility, in the state of California it's Tehachapi, where they receive juvenile type of education, training, and various other types of things.
But when they turn 18, then they go to an adult facility. Rehabilitation is a goal for every person who goes to prison. In my judgment and the judgment of America's prosecutors, police, and judges. But it is not the only goal. The other goal has to be to make sure that a community is protected and that those who have been victimized by a crime get a sense of justice, that the punishment does fit the crime. And in murder, the crime is the most severe.
MARGARET WARNER: Ms. Levick, I've read of some states and some advocates for what they call a blended sentence in which the child is given an adult sentence, but at the time of transfer from the juvenile facility to the adult might get another shot at persuading a judge that he or she was ready to be released. Are you in favor of something like that?
MARSHA LEVICK: Well, it's... of course it's not an option that's available for Nathaniel Brazill in Florida. I think that the problem with blended sentencing, while it has a certain surface appeal, aha, that's a way of getting around the problem of putting juveniles in adult facilities, is that what we don't want to do is let the system and let our communities off the hook. What we want to do is make sure that we commit ourselves to preventing crime and to rehabilitating offenders.
I know that there are some professionals who work in the criminal and juvenile justice system, and there are judges -- in fact, the judge who handled the case of Nathaniel Abraham in Michigan, a young man who committed murder at 11, who rejected the idea of blended sentencing in that case because he felt that it took away the incentive to rehabilitate a young man who had the potential to be rehabilitated by the age of 21. So, as I said, there's a surface appeal to it, but I think that it's a complicated question.
And what we should be most concerned with are really issues that I think Paul and I agree on, and that is certainly concern for the victims, certainly acknowledgment of the heinousness of this crime. But also protection of the public by preventing future criminal activity. And where we part is that the facts are pretty clear at this point that the way to do that is to rehabilitate these offenders in the juvenile justice system as we've been doing for the last 100 years and not to do it in adult facilities. There may be some adult facilities in California that may be better facilities than what we currently have.
The vast majority of states in this country are sending these young individuals into adult prisons that don't have rehabilitation programs, that don't have adequate education, that don't have mental health services and counseling, and that cannot provide these young individuals with the treatment and rehabilitation and supervision that they need to become productive when they get out, and they will get out.

Re-offending
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Pfingst, a brief final word from you. Address the point Ms. Levick has made a couple of times, which is that the data suggests that the record of re-offending is actually higher in those that are treated in the criminal justice system as adults.
PAUL PFINGST: I think what we have to look at is our court system is filled, day in and day out, with people who went to juvenile facilities who are not rehabilitated, came out, robbed, raped, and murdered. Rehabilitation works for some, but in many cases, the overwhelming majority of cases where rehabilitation has not worked, we have victims.
The victims are the people who have to go to the funerals, have to confront a life of misery because of the crime inflicted by them, by someone who is rotated in and out of the system many, many times. The juvenile system sometimes rehabilitates, but most often, most frequently, when people get to the stage of murder, rape, and robbery, the prospects for successful rehabilitation diminish, and that's where it kicks in the need to make sure that society is safe from people who are violent and present a high degree of risk to members of the community.
These are difficult issues. No one wants to pretend these issues are easy or that they're not complex, but at the end of the day, murder and the victimization of murder has to be treated seriously.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Mr. Pfingst and Ms. Levick, we have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.
PAUL PFINGST: Thank you.
 

Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents - Our Mission is to do better!

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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