Trying Children as Adults

Trying Children as Adults:

Trying Children as Adults:

By Jeremiah Cameron (May 19, 2001)

Trying children as adults is just wrong: Immature brains explain why. In some of the most mature words ever spoken, Christ from the cross explains why there are so many miscarriages of justice: "Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing." Earlier philosophers, Plato for instance, had argued that we do wrong out of ignorance. Socrates said that no one who understands the consequences of a wrong action, would commit that action. This is significantly true of children, whose brains are still in the process of maturing before age 20. This is also true of the adults who punish them.

To attempt—and crime and sociopathic behavior are going to continue so long as there is brain malfunctioning—to protect society, we believe still in the Mosaic code of "lex talionis," an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, although we proudly wear our crosses, as we do just the opposite of what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount. Characteristically, when we cannot prevent, explain, or handle a situation we resort to that "old brain" response that is inherent in the very crimes we wish to punish.

When we execute Timothy McVeigh, we are creating that same out-of-sync operation of the "old" or limbic section of the brain (which does not do the thinking for us) and the frontal lobe (where judgment and thoughtfulness take place) that makes us just as much a murderer as McVeigh: We do not want to recognize that the same tendencies that lead performers of vicious criminals to do what they do are in us and causing us to retaliate—to go into court to get an ignorant judge to declare whether someone is sane or insane and then deliver that person into our hands, as Pilate did Jesus, so that we can kill him.

Over and over in these columns, especially as I have addressed poor learning, I have pondered why we are reluctant to find out the causes of unacceptable behavior. There is no response if there is no stimulus. Both response and stimulus impulse are functions within the brain. I believe that we are—in our brains—reluctant to understand that we, society, are partially responsible for the crimes that criminals carry out. We would rather spend billions of dollars to build prisons, electrocution rooms, to hire policemen, prosecuting attorneys and judges (none of whom or which are equipped to get at causes) than to prevent the unacceptable behavior. The madder we get because we cannot understand or control, the harsher the punishment is.

This is not justice; this is revenge which when it comes to letting right be done, is basically unjust and a base way for intelligent people to act. If a child does not have the judgement to drive at 14, to vote at 14, to go into the military at 14, they why do courts declare that he has the wisdom and judgment to understand the nature and consequences of murder at 14? Neurologists tell us that the prefrontal lobe of the brain, where judgment and thoughtfulness take place, is not fully developed at 14. And if the cingulate gyrus, which permits us to move from one thought to another, and the left temporal lobe are not mature, then awful behavior can result. Again, how responsible is the child?

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