For the week of February 10, 1999  thru February 16, 1999  

Instant adult bills are crime not punishment

In Idaho, the age of adulthood is dropping. Kids could suddenly become instant adults when they commit their first serious crime if some in the Idaho Legislature have their way.

Two bills just introduced would require kids now tried in juvenile court to be tried as adults for serious crimes. If convicted as adults, they would serve time in adult prisons.

In the first bill, children twelve years or older who are charged with murder or attempted murder would be required to stand trial as adults. Currently, only teens age 14 and up may be tried as adults.

In the second bill, teens at least 14 years old would be charged as adults in kidnapping cases.

Juveniles who commit other crimes including forcible rape, robbery and arson with intent to harm others are already kicked into adult court.

The new measures sound tough. They would mean serious time for serious crime. They are the classic lock ‘em up and throw away the key kind of western justice.

The idea is simple: Violent crime is committed by adults. Adults who commit violent crimes should go to prison. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it sounds.

To force every kid who commits a violent crime to be tried as an adult is to abandon any hope of rehabilitation. Worse, to throw every kid convicted of a violent crime into an adult prison population is to forfeit whatever shred of humanity may remain in a young, if misguided, mind.

Kids in an adult prison population will be nothing more than prey for predators. Largely unable to defend themselves, they will pay for their crimes by becoming victims of crimes including forcible rape, assault and battery, and robbery.

The idea of locking up criminals as young as 12 with hardened adult offenders is repugnant and reprehensible.

The bills would make the state’s policies on juveniles and violent crimes consistent. They would also make them unjust. Idaho needs to rethink its policies.

Idahoans got tired of seeing juveniles who committed serious crimes get off with a slap on the wrist in secret court proceedings. They wanted tougher sentencing and tougher punishment. They wanted juvenile offenders to have to face the society they had harmed. However, we doubt they wanted to go this far.

If age 12, why not 10? If 10, why not eight? Why juvenile courts at all?

If Idaho sets out along the path described by the two bills, it should prepare new signs to hang over the door of every courtroom where instant adults are tried. The sign should read, "Abandon hope, all ye who may be convicted here."


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