Let’s Take Republicans At Their Word and Stop Destroying Children’s Lives in the Criminal Justice System

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There’s been a fascinating line of argument advanced by conservatives to defend Justice Brett Kavanaugh, one that argues even if he did attack Professor Ford when both were teenagers, his “exemplary” adult life should excuse that behavior. They piously suggest that we should not define people by the mistakes of their youth and we should give people the chance to learn from their mistakes.

I don’t remember any of these Republicans condemning Donald Trump for his calls to execute the teenagers falsely accused in the Central Park 5 case or demanding that the Administration stop ripping children from their parents at the border before sending them to jails, but we’re past evaluating hypocrisy with this segment of Americans.

Instead, let’s take them at their word and outlaw the barbaric practice of sentencing children as adults.

Here in Montana, prosecutors have the discretion to try children as young as 12 years old as adults for very serious crimes and as young as 16 for many more offenses. I look forward to Kavanaugh’s defenders drafting legislation in the next session to protect the future lives of these young men and women.

In fact, thirteen states have no minimum age for prosecution as an adult, as Equal Justice Institute notes:

Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia have no minimum age for the adult prosecution of children. Very young children are vulnerable to unfair pressure when accused of crimes. The absence of a minimum age also exposes very young children to being held in adult correctional facilities, where they are at increased risk of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse.

The penalties for crimes committed as a child can be incredibly severe. In fact, as Katie Rose Quandt writes, the United States is the only country in the world that sentences children to life imprisonment:

Brown is far from alone. She is one of about 10,000 Americans serving life sentences for offenses committed as a child, meaning under the age of eighteen. Of them, approximately 2,500 are serving an even more dire sentence—life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). The United States is the only country in the world that sentences people to die in prison for offenses committed as children.

Surely those who argue that an attempted sexual assault as a teenager isn’t disqualifying for a Supreme Court appointment would argue against a five-year prison sentence for stealing a pair of shoes, right? Surely, they understand that it’s easier to develop into an exemplary adult if you’re not thrown into the penal system and instead are given every opportunity to succeed, right?

I know my Republican friends would never suggest that we have two different justice systems, one for powerfully-connected, wealthy white men, and one for the rest of us, so I urge them to come forward in their state legislatures, Congress, and the courts to challenge laws that allow children who deserve the chance to learn from their mistakes and develop into exemplary adults.

Perhaps even Brett Kavanaugh could, as the newest, most impartial justice, strike down these laws that run counter to our understanding of brain development, violate international law, and certainly impose cruel and unusual punishment on children.

Wouldn’t that be an exemplary act?

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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