Russell Hebets Oct. 25, 2013

When I was young, I did my fair share of very stupid things; maybe even more than my fair share. Whether it was “shagging” on my skateboard (for the uninitiated, this is catching a free ride by grabbing the bumper of an unsuspecting passing car), exploring abandoned buildings after dark, or an occasional egging or TPing of someone’s house, I often did things that your average adult wouldn’t engage in. For those of us who have made it through adolescence unscathed, we can remember that the worst thing we had to worry about was the dreaded call or visit to our parents. Oh, how the times have changed.

I’ve practiced criminal law for the past 13 years, and in that time I’ve seen a steady increase in the number of mind-numbingly stupid criminal charges leveled at children and teenagers. These range from fairly harmless charges such as criminal Trespassing for lighting small fireworks in a vacant lot, to exceptionally serious criminal charges such as Distribution of Child Pornography for texting a photo of an exposed breast. In the vast majority of cases there is no criminal intent, yet even in the case of minor offenses, the charge may stay on your juvenile record!

A consensus of scientists now says that the brains of adolescents are not developed enough to control impulses or weigh consequences as an adult would, so why are we going out of our way to put kids into a criminal justice system that is ill-equipped to handle the volume or the issues that today’s children bring to the table? It seems to me that we had some pretty good results when parents, rather than the criminal justice system, responded and corrected the behavior of kids who were simply being young and stupid. Children should be allowed to make mistakes, and those mistakes shouldn’t follow them for the rest of their lives.