The Maryland General Assembly is considering a law that would require juveniles over 13, who commit violent sex crimes, to be added to a sex offender registry. While youth are indeed capable of committing heinous crimes, will we continually redraw the line for trying juvenile offenders as adults?
The Washington Post recently published a heartbreaking story about a three-year old boy who was sodomized by his 13 year-old male babysitter. When the case went to trial, the babysitter was tried as a juvenile offender. Is there a proper way to deal with young offenders such as this babysitter, or older juveniles who might receive harsher sentences? Further crowding the prison system will not rehabilitate youth, and such sentences, along with the death sentence for children, are simply methods of extreme punishment. While the babysitter committed a horrible, life-altering act, I wonder if he was old enough to understand the depth of his actions.
My internal monologue could run this debate for days. But, I believe there is a more important issue here: the Maryland law could pave the way for trying teens as adults for committing nonviolent juvenile sex acts (consensual sex among teens or statutory cases) and deeming them sex offenders. In other states, statutory cases involving 17 year-olds (e.g., a high school senior engaging in sex with a sophomore) have resulted in imprisonment and sex offender status. Can we trust lawmakers to draw a defining line between these instances of sex and violent sex acts?
Furthermore, can we assume that lawmakers won’t use this violent youth sex offender law to craft holistic legislation for trying kids as adults? If a 12 year-old rapes a three year-old, will the legislature fight to reduce the age for adult trial further? While we all must take responsibility for our actions and be prepared to face the consequences, is it just to take a kid’s entire life for a crime he or she may not be able to comprehend? Is there a way to explain the breadth of the injustice, and rehabilitate the young offender, without sentencing him to 55 years in prison?
I don’t have the answers to this litany of questions, but I believe they’re worth considering. Please feel free to share your thoughts about youth rehabilitation, imprisonment, and more.