Over the past several years, people in the United States have been victims and witnesses or horrendous acts committed by juvenile offenders. Criminal justice personnel and psychologists have to face tough questions about what to do when a child potentially poses a threat.
The article in the link below summarizes a threat posed by two very young boys, which resulted in them being put into a juvenile facility for years.
The case I am asking you to consider is a bit extreme. Some threats we hear as psychologists are more subtle, and make it harder to judge. Give this article a quick read Or see my abstracted version below, and tell us: Should they HAVE been imprisoned? Why or why not?
Around 7:30 a.m. on Feb. 7, 2013, Payette went as usual into the lunchroom to supervise, greeted by the din of children eating breakfast and filing in from school buses. A fourth-grader approached him and said a fifth-grade boy, David, had had a knife on the bus, which he’d brought into school.
Payette searched David, his sweatshirt and pants pockets, but found nothing. The boy protested innocence: “Knife? I don’t know anything about a knife. You’re talking about a butter knife?’”
He then led the boy to the hall and opened his backpack, again finding nothing. He went into the classroom, and asked his teacher, Mr. Jones, if he could look through the student’s desk. Mr. Jones replied that David hadn’t been in yet but a boy named Adam — both boys have been given pseudonyms here — had, and the two had been spending a lot of time together lately. Payette took Adam’s backpack off the hook and opened it. Inside he found a knife with a 3-inch blade, a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun, and a magazine containing seven rounds. That day, David was 11 and three months; Adam was 10½.
The police and the boys’ legal guardians were called. Arms first asked David if he understood why he’d come.
David nodded and replied, “Because I was planning to kill a girl in my class.” He explained that the girl had been picking on him and his friends. The plan was for Adam to be the “shooter” and for David to be the “knifer.” Adam answered similarly, saying the girl had been rude to him and his friends. The officer felt both boys seemed without remorse or emotion. He pressed Adam, making sure he understood the implications of this, and Adam said, “Yes, I just want her dead.” (The boys’ confessions to Scott Arms were later ruled inadmissible at trial, as Arms did not explain to the guardian of either boy that it was they, rather than Adam or David, who were responsible for waiving Miranda rights.)
Adam also spoke with Debbie Rogers about the plot, expanding on the planned scale of the violence. “No, you don’t understand, there’s more to this,” he said. “There’s other kids, we were going to hurt other kids.” He told her some names, and then picked out more from a class list, six in all. Adam’s revelation about the horrific scope of the plan might have been a child’s honesty, but it might also plausibly have been empty, if unsettling, bravado. David chattered freely about his plan, as well as the physical threat he posed, on the day of his arrest (he tapped on the glass of the in-school suspension room to motion a detective closer, before informing him, “I just want to let you know,” as he raised his fists, “that I’m in tae kwon do and can really use my hands, and when you take me out of school you better put the handcuffs behind my back”), yet, unlike Adam, he mentioned only one intended victim in all of his interviews.
THE FOLLOWING NOTE WAS FOUND IN THE BACKPACK OF ONE OF THE BOYS:
I’ll show you the steps and I ma have changed plans. So Just Read my steps and tell if Im right or rong.
how I got this
Step 1 we ride the bus.
Step 2 stay in class until I say.
Step 3 during frist recess we go to the bathroom and get are masks on.
Step 4 we boit out side and run tord her nad you, me kill her and get are Freedom.
Step 5 we run up to the upper field and run tord my house.
Step 6 if the cops catch us put your hands up and get ready for pan.[pain]
Step 7 Be ready to go to Jail.
Plese write back
P.S. we shoud do it on tomaro.”
When children plan out a murder step by wicked step — when they bring a gun and a knife and an ammunition clip to school and speak openly and plainly about their intentions — their judgment, rather than being an academic, psychological question, must be decided absolutely in a courtroom. Knowing or unknowing, scheming or confused. How do their upbringings, however good or bad, exculpate or implicate them? The state has to determine beyond doubt a 10- or 11-year-old’s capacity to fully understand their actions; an infinitely complex problem becomes a yes or no question. When a guilty sentence is handed down, as it was for both defendants in the Colville case, it is unclear whether it serves to rehabilitate, or merely punish.