The present system for dealing with young criminals does not satisfy a lot of people. The solution proposed in several articles in your paper in the last week sounds like the solution to the poor situation in the old mental health system; that is, shut it down and put the inmates in community services.

The shutdown was done but the services never emerged. No one planned in advance who would provide services; where, how or what those services should be was not addressed, nor was there a mechanism to insure that those “freed” would go to them. Many became homeless.

Some years back a death penalty appeal in the Pacific Northwest got national attention, because the 20-something sentenced to die was speaking against the appeal. His appeal for execution was that he was disgusted by his own actions, but still was drawn worse ones when the chance to commit them came. If he was alive, he would take no pleasure from it, and would be a danger to others. His first sex crime conviction was at 14. He was told to get mental health care, and turned loose. No assignment to a specific provider, no followup to be sure he did it. Repeated crimes got the same result; the enlightened community doesn’t lock up children. He worked his way up to torture and murder, and was executed.

In the 1970s Washington, D.C.’s court system for children and teens was known as “kiddie court” to the young thugs who oppressed all around them with no fear of consequences.

The current system may be flawed. Until a replacement, preferably one proven to work better, is actually in place, we would do better to keep it.

Tom Heyns


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