We’ve been seeing a trend in the social justice community lately which focuses on a push for lighter sentences for teenage criminals and a greater focus on “rehabilitation” rather than punishment. It’s been a successful push in many places, such as California, where they recently rolled back sentences of life without parole for those convicted as teens. There are entire think tanks dedicated to it. And who doesn’t want to be at least somewhat sympathetic to teenagers who may have simply “gotten in with a bad crowd” or made some serious “errors in judgment” as youths?
But before we rush further down this charitable and forgiving path, allow me to present a series of news items which cropped up this week. Taken individually they may, sadly, not seem like much out of the ordinary. But I believe we’re detecting a pattern here.
Let’s start in Chicago since you never have to look very far to find some crime stories there. CBS Chicago reports that residents of several communities are now living in fear. They’re experiencing a crime spree on the South Side where predominantly teenage suspects are stealing vehicles and using them to commit armed robberies. Police in the Windy City recently arrested five teenagers who allegedly carjacked a Lyft driver at gunpoint just over the border in Hammond, Indiana. And they’re hardly the only ones.
How about Baltimore? It’s also a hotspot for violent crime these days, but it’s clearly not all being committed by adults. The juvenile justice system there is facing a lot of questions following a prolonged string of violent attacks by groups of teenagers.
The juvenile justice system is drawing scrutiny after a string of violent assaults from Northwest Baltimore to downtown. Baltimore City police say they repeatedly arrest the same teenagers for violent acts, and they get little punishment from the courts.
One of the victims is a woman who says she was grabbed, dragged to the ground and beaten with boards on Halloween night in Federal Hill just off Fort Avenue.
Her boyfriend Jeff Brown asked that WJZ not use her name.
“Once they had her, someone said ‘Go!’ They just went in with boards. She tried to fight them off, went to the ground, and they continued hitting her,” Brown said.
The woman in that story requires plastic surgery to repair all the damage done to her, but this known group of teens has been in front of a judge multiple times and repeatedly released with little more than a slap on the wrist. In the meantime, Northwest Baltimore has set a record for the number of armed carjackings by teens. The cops are arresting them but the police commissioner is complaining that his officers are seeing the same suspects back on the streets the next day getting into more trouble. That’s at least partly due to the fact that the City Council is still focused on “rehabilitation” over corrective measures and incarceration. And at the same time, gun crime arrests are down 25% in Charm City, not because there’s less gun crime, but because of failures by the police department.
This isn’t just happening in the cities with the highest murder rates. Out in Pueblo, Colorado, police spent the weekend searching high and low for a murder suspect. They know who he is. They just can’t find him. The twist to this story is that he’s 15 years old.
Now keep in mind that I didn’t need to go scrounging through dusty archives to cherrypick a few examples to make my case. All of these things happened in the last five days. And I can find you more in other cities around the nation with very little effort.
We’ve gone too far with these assumptions that the system is somehow unfair to children who might not have known better. By the time a lot of these kids are 15 or 16 they are already full-time members of criminal gangs and are up to their necks in dirty dealing. In fact, some arrested gang leaders have admitted that they like employing juveniles specifically because they tend to be in and out of the court system so quickly, while those 18 and up might face real prison time.
Compassion is a wonderful thing, but we’re sending the wrong message here. As long as you can very nearly kill someone, stick a gun in their face or otherwise endanger their lives and not do any real time, the message that law enforcement is a joke is reinforced. Actual crime deterrence can’t happen absent a palpable threat of punishment serious enough to give the offender pause. It’s time to roll back some of these sentence reform initiatives and remind the actual bad guys that the good guys are serious.