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Real Justice Keeps Kids Out Of Prison

Mar 19, 2008
The numbers are staggering, youthful offenders under the age of 18 account for over twenty percent of all violent crimes. In the last ten years juvenile arrests for violence have increased by 75 percent while arrests for weapons violations increased by 103 percent.

So what do we do with these troubled kids who are committing violence? Put them in prison? And if so, for how long? And what about those who commit serious crimes in states that have the death penalty? Do we write off these young lives as unsalvageable? At what age are they past rehabilitation? Unfortunately, these dilemmas are playing themselves out in communities and courthouses all across the country.

You don't have to look very hard to see the real life dramas. In California recently a 14-year old was arrested for killing a 15-year old boy.

The District Attorney in the case has said he'll try the teen as an adult, and seek a life sentence against him. In twenty-years of practicing criminal defense and family law, I've witnessed countless families destroyed as mere kids succumb to a justice system that is far more destructive than benevolent, more punitive than rehabilitative.

And who is to benefit from all these lost children to society?This was one of the main questions I asked when I found myself being sucked into the Jesse James Hollywood death penalty case.

Here was this twenty year old facing the biggest life-or-death ordeal of his young existence, for allegedly ordering the abduction and murder of the fifteen-year-old kid-brother of his arch-nemesis in 2000. Four other youths, aged seventeen to twenty, had already been tried and convicted.

One was now on death row. Another served life in prison. And another was seventeen while being tried like an adult, and again, I asked, are we really better off now?In that case, the prosecutor had sought a ten-eyes-for-two type of justice.

The families of the youthful defendants had been devastated just like the victim's family had and now the state wanted to mete out its own form of antiquated justice by killing their children or ordering them to prison forever. These acts would not enhance society or make the victim's family whole.

No one would benefit by continuing the ripple effect of death and destruction. It had to be reversed.

That's why, ultimately, I agreed to testify in the case.

And that's why I'm telling everybody who'll listen: I don't want to see another death. I don't want to hear about another mother devastated and childless. I don't want to witness another family's endless spiral into the abyss.To me, the issue isn't how best to punish these troubled kids in unforgiving prisons or to seek vengeance against them by killing the worst off through state-sanctioned murder. The issue, to me, is'How do we help them now? And on the bigger palette, How do we reach our children even if it sometimes might have to be after the fact to teach them the skills necessary to live healthy and loving and productive lives. To stay out of trouble.

To make them feel loved and wanted.

It's tougher being a kid now than at any other time in our history.

The world can be a very confusing and unforgiving place for someone who is not prepared.

Life is different now for our children than it was when we were growing up. And we, as parents and members of society, need to recognize those differences. We need to account for them. We need to work to instill a new set of values on our own lives values that will indirectly instill meaning into our children's lives as they attempt to navigate the minefield of life.

We need to become what it is that we want them to experience.
About the Author
Michael Mehas was the associate producer of Alpha Dog, a movie starring Justin Timberlake, Bruce Willis, and Sharon Stone. Michael's new book, Stolen Boy, is based on the true story of the youngest man ever on the FBI's Most Wanted List. Find out more at http://www.MichaelMehas.com
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