When I started this blog, I thought I had found a cause I needed to get behind. I came to learn that the issue is far more complicated than I’d ever imagined. I continue to believe there is something fundamentally wrong about trying and convicting juveniles as adults and incarcerating them in adult prison for life without the possibility of parole, but my reasons have changed.
I learned that most of these juvenile offenders committed unspeakable crimes. I learned that in cases where offenders could be said to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, someone was brutally murdered.
I learned that the loved ones of the victims of these crimes; mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, friends and neighbors endure a lifetime of grief and pain. Marriages fall apart. Mental illness and substance abuse often ensue.
The loved ones of the juvenile offenders suffer similar fates, although often alone, shunned by relatives, friends and members of their communities.
I searched on line and read books on everything I could find detailing the crimes of the 46 offenders in my home state of Colorado who will die in prison, trying to understand how they could have done the things they did. I found no answers. Some of them made impulsive, stupid decisions and ended up being party to deadly crimes. And some of them are dangerous sociopaths who are incapable of feeling compassion for other people or remorse for what they’ve done.
I met with victim and offender advocates, exchanged emails with them and spoke to them on the phone for hours. I met the relatives of victims and the relatives of offenders. My heart truly aches for all of them.
I came to understand the pain to the victims’ families whenever they watch well-meaning offender advocates speaking on behalf of the murderers of their loved ones. I became attuned to the silent anger and pain most of them feel at displays of support for freeing the offenders and the insensitivity usually displayed toward the victims and their families. I came to wince whenever I heard the offenders referred to as “children”. I learned of the fear and horror the victims’ families endure at the idea that those who they thought would be locked away forever could be free again or at the idea that they might have to relive the details of the crime and face the offender at parole hearings, maybe for the rest of their lives.
And the offenders?
I exchanged letters with offenders and conducted an extensive Q&A through the mail with one. Those questions and answers are here on this blog. I grew to like him. He’s now been incarcerated longer than he’d been alive at the time of his crimes. The more I learned about life inside a maximum security prison, the more pessimistic my view of the justice and corrections systems concerning violent juveniles.
Some of the offenders may have been capable of rehabilitation at the time of their crimes if they’d been put into an intense correctional program focused on restorative justice and away from adult inmates. Perhaps after serving appropriately lengthy sentences some could have eventually been safely released into society. Those kinds of sentencing options weren’t available then and they aren’t available now.
I have come to believe that years of incarceration in a maximum security adult corrections system that provides no opportunity for rehabilitation and where a teenager’s fate as prey or as hardened convict is quickly decided begins to erode and eventually eliminates the possibility of rehabilitation and redemption.
So what do I think should change about all of this?
It’s too late to change the past.
I don’t think there is a good sentencing or corrections solution for violent teenage criminals. I think they’re too dangerous for juvenile facilities, and I don’t think they belong in Supermax.
There is nothing else.
In almost all of the cases I am familiar with, some kind of intervention by family, school, friends, social services or law enforcement might have prevented the heinous crimes that followed. In almost all of these cases, someone or something failed these juveniles and so failed all of us.
I’ve stayed away from this blog for almost a year, but I learned a lot from the research I did, the people I met and the comments people left here. I am grateful to all of those people who spoke with me, exchanged emails with me and shared their pain with me.
I believe there are things here that people can learn from. Despite my inattention to this site, it’s gotten over 38,000 hits since I started it. On some days over 100 people still come here.
This discussion will continue until we find a way to come to terms with why so many American juveniles commit violent crimes and until we find a way to make it stop.
My part in this dialog is finished.
All the posts will remain, so make yourself at home and stay as long as you like.