Thursday, February 02, 2006

Groundhogs, bullies, lawyers and children, Part Two

If you haven't read Part One, you need to read it first for background. Really. A lot of this won't make sense if you don't.

Usual disclaimer: The opinions on this blog are mine. They have nothing to do with my employer or its parent company. Please don't dooce me.

So here we have a screwed-up, angry, heavily armed 14-year-old. He does something horrible, something that can't be undone. What to do?

Well, there are a couple of ways we can handle it. We can throw the book at him, make sure he pays for his crime as heavily as can be done. Or we can put him in for treatment and rehabilitation.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not opposed to punitive sentencing for criminals. Nor do I have an all-consuming faith in the efficacy of therapy and counseling. I tend to think a lot of counseling is hooey. Forgiveness isn't the issue here, either; forgiveness is between individuals, not between an individual and the state. To be honest, my gut-level response to somebody walking into a school and offing two kids and a teacher would be to start shopping for rope.

But the choice in Barry Loukaitis' case wasn't so cut-and-dried. Barry was 14, not even in high school yet. As a minor, he wasn't subject to the throw-the-book/get-a-rope option. In a juvenile facility, he would have received psychological treatment and probably been released when he was 21 (assuming it was safe). So what was the logical thing to do? Make him not a minor.

Now this is where my voice begins to rise. I was then and continue to be absolutely and utterly bumfuzzled by this move. The prosecutor, faced with common sense on one hand, and a justifiably angry community on the other, took the coward's way out and charged Barry as an adult. (He also tried to keep the trial in Grant County, where it was guaranteed impossible to find an impartial jury. He failed in that one, and it was moved to Seattle. Media exposure may produce a bias, but not as much as being related to a victim.) Adult charges meant adult penalties. He couldn't be executed – and I heard rumblings of anger even over that – but he could be locked away in an adult prison for life with no possibility of parole. Ever.

I'm not a lawyer. I don't even play one on the Internet. So the legal niceties may be beyond my scope of knowledge. But the moral one is obvious: In what alternate reality is a 14-year-old boy an adult? How can that be? How?!?

There's a reason that societies have laws as to when the age of majority is reached. Children simply don't possess the mental capacity to think through the corollary or long-term effects of their actions. If you eat lots of candy at once, you'll get a tummyache. But that will be after the candy is consumed, so the kid doesn't think about it until it becomes unavoidable. Even farther out of mind are things like cavities and nutritional balance. Kids live in the immediate, and learn to think ahead slowly as they grow up.

This is why a minor can't vote, or buy alcohol, or join the Army, or consent to sex, or even sign a legal contract. At 14, a kid has some mature judgment, but not near as much as he'll have in four more years. Until they turn 18, their parents are responsible for their actions as well as their well-being. Kids don't have adult privileges, and they don't face adult responsibilities. Our juvenile court system is designed, rather than merely punishing kids who break laws, to straighten them out before they become adults. When they reach 18, their records are cleared, because you can no more hold someone responsible at an adult level for the window he broke at 10 than you can for the milk he spilled at three.

Of course, the 18-year mark poses a risk of being used as a get-out-of-jail-free card. In theory, it would be possible to rob a bank at the age of 17 years and 364 days and still be considered a juvenile. So there's some leeway in the law for charging offenders who are capable of of mature judgment but slightly shy of majority.

I asked rhetorically earlier in what world it would be possible to declare a 14-year-old an adult, simply because it's convenient to do so. The answer alas, is the world we now live in. In the ten years since Barry Loukaitis was declared an adult, the trend has been to lower the age of adulthood further and further. Words like "child," "juvenile," and "too young" simply mean less and less.

This is a world in which pre-teen girls are encouraged to shop at Victoria's Secret to advertise their sexual nubility and prep them for exploitation. A world in which pubescent boys and girls are expected to treat blowjobs as equivalent to hugs. A world in which a soi-disant "health care organization" advertises sex to kids too young to have it legally, and then covers up for the perverts who molest them. A world in which children as young as 10 or 12 are brainwashed and twisted into machines to kill, rape and mutilate. A world in which childhood has meaning only so long as adults do not use the children as tools for their own gratification.

Am I equating a prosecuting attorney with a kiddy-diddler who vacations in Bangkok? No, I'm not. The pervert is gratifying his own twisted desires. The lawyer was faced with a choice either to do what was right or to keep his career. He chose the latter, and was able to convince a judge that it was legal. It could be argued that he was simply doing his job. But they both did their part to make childhood revocable at an adult's will.

So as it stands, Barry is in prison at Clallam Bay, and will be until he dies. He will never drive a car. He will never drink a beer. He will never marry or have children. All the things that he might have done when he grew up are impossible now, because his childhood lasted only as long as his trial. Yes, it's true that the kids he killed won't grow up either. I'm certainly not lacking in sympathy for his victims' families. But treating him justly wouldn't have brought them back anymore than railroading him did. And his victims aren't suffering any more, but he is. Because being a child doesn't really count anymore. Not really.


Devin Rod said...

You are a really talented writer.

Brandon said...

I found this article on Barry's wikipedia article and I thought I should comment. Since you wrote this article 12 years ago, our Supreme Court has luckily intervened on behalf of juveniles regarding Life without Parole sentences. The problem is that 1) The SCOTUS decision didn't go far enough, and 2) When Barry got his chance at release he waived that right and took another life sentence that he now cannot appeal. There is a reason Barry did that and it goes back to the resason why our justice system is in desparate need of serious reform. The Supreme Court decision just came too late for Barry. By 2016 Barry had already been in prison 20 years. He grew up in prison basically. Barry was worried he wouldn't be able to make it on the outside after being locked up for so long. Barry's father tells me that while Barry still keeps some hope of getting out one day, he has allowed himself to become a martyr for the crimes (that he was not completely responsible for either). He says that when Barry was first sentenced he was hopeful that he would still get out considering the circumstances. Time just went on and Barry has since been led to believe that he actually belongs there the rest of his life. I was Barry's age in 1996, it could have been me. I had a lot of the same problems but luckily no access to guns. I was heartbroken and angered about what they did to Barry. Learning about his recent resentencing inspired me to finally wake up and do something about this Medieval American judicial system. Before the SCOTUS ruling we were the only country in the world that sentenced juveniles to life w/o parole sentences. And we still have a long way to go before our judicial system catches up with the rest of the world. Right now, our judicial system is practically pre-20th century, very barbaric and medieval in many ways. We have the highest prison population in the world and for more reasons than just Barry's case. Barry was a victim of the part of the system that basically turns kids into slaves of the state.I am ready to do something. Someone needs to stand up now. I am new to this activism thing and I am having a hard time getting started. Any help would be appreciated.