Wednesday, December 21, 2011

We need to rethink the long sentences for young offenders, research has shown their power of decision are still in development

As a teenager I got into a fight I am so afraid that I have avoided since. What scared me was the cold that went through me tearing strips from each other. I closed emotionally. I wanted to kill the child whose throat had my hands around. There was no interest in the consequences, my anger was pregnant. It was the brute force of a large PE teacher, striking the difference that we do not do something I regret for the rest of my life.

I work in a juvenile prison in the southwest. The crimes of the young men of my great mentor writer theft to murder. During my last visit to the youth wing of a life sentence, I was struck by the childlike character of a teenager who was running a one-on-one. On the landing, had the arrogance and the confidence of a man of culture and many other prisoners gave him a wide berth. It was clearly intelligent and had participated in too many horror of his 17 years on the planet. StreetSmart was resistant. But it was in many ways still a child. The security of the room, I could, consciously or not, his guard and reveal more than he really was: vulnerable, damaged, frightened and confused. This I could identify my own adolescence.

The belief of many young people do not always take into account the many factors that make decision-making mind of a teenager. Some of these children should be in jail for public safety and theirs, but most do not. I challenge the government and the judiciary to take into account the complexity of brain function and growth of youth and the wide range of factors that lead to crime. Of course, it would be easy to maintain the current complement of the sentence: one size fits all, save time, let the public believe that the government is in control. It is not.

So the next time you hear of a young man sentenced to several years in prison they were on the planet, he remembers his own time as a teenager and how to deal with conflict and decision making. Spare a thought for the possible circumstances that led to crime heard. Above all, remember that the crime made by a person 14 years of age, is very different from that committed by a 24-year and should be treated and approached with a greater understanding of the developing mind.


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