Let the punishment fit the crime.
What that means for juvenile offenders in Indiana and nationally is that an appropriate sentencing outcome — that is, a logical and equitable response to a criminal charge — must take due regard of the singular characteristics often attaching to youth and tailor the repercussions to reflect what are often fundamental differences between adolescent and adult offenders.
What that means in practical terms in the criminal justice realm is that young wrongdoers often — though not always — walk a parallel line when they enter “the system” after being charged with a crime. When deemed appropriate, the ultimate disposition in their case reflects a formal response by authorities that proceeds from recognition that teenagers should not always be treated in the same manner as older defendants.
That nod to potential and redemption was firmly on display recently in a case involving five teenage boys — all 16 or 17 — who marred the walls of a former all-black school near Washington, D.C. with swastikas and inflammatory racial graffiti.
The prosecutor in their case noted that, interestingly, the boys collectively comprised multiple races and that none of them had any past criminal record. She viewed their conduct as being more uniformed and naïve than purposefully prompted by hate, and she responded in a manner she thought accorded best with a “teachable moment.”
As a result, those offenders will now read books — lots of them — from diverse viewpoints that focus upon race in America and that will hopefully teach them to understand the public outcry surrounding their acts.
And they will report back on those works. And also write a research paper on hate crime/speech. And, moreover, visit the national Holocaust museum. And listen to an interview involving an ex-student at the now closed school offering her perspective on the incident.
Those requirements are in lieu of a more centrally based punitive response. Hopefully the boys will learn much from their educational interactions.
If they do (that is, if they complete all the assigned tasks/opportunities), their charges will be dropped.