The case for reform


Don't worry about the fact that the audio stinks here. But if you're prone to audible gasps, you may want to check your surroundings.

You're forgiven if you missed this video of New Mexico University's Elizabeth Lambert being perhaps a bit too rough in a 1-0 loss to Brigham Young. Her play earned her an indefinite suspension, as you might have imagined.

You can take her "OMG I can't believe that was me!" for what it's worth, but did she deserve the

[You] should be taken to a state prison, raped and left for dead in a ditch

Email that she says she got? Emm, no.

She's doing what she needs to do to get back in the good graces of the NMU powers, including seeing a psychiatrist and talking to youth soccer players about sportsmanship (it occurs to me that might be a little like Jayson Blair giving a journalism ethics talk or Eliot Spitzer talking on ethics, but at least she's still a college student and learning her way through life).

At least NMU is giving her a shot. One thing that's coming up a lot these days in minimum sentencing laws – particularly as regards sentencing juveniles to life in prison (this is often the result of three-strike laws and that sort of thing).

Tell a 16-year-old he's going to prison for the rest of his life, not only have you removed just about all hope of him bothering to be a decent human being ever (he's not likely to see a need for reform if he's not getting out of jail), but you've also told him you're not interested in helping him out.

The Atlantic Monthly has a good roundup of news and commentary about the topic, and they got a good response on Facebook to the piece.

THe way I figure it, you've got two strong arguments you can make. One, this kid has either done something so bad he should be in prison for life, or he's shown after two prior crimes he's not going to shape up Or, two, you might say that the line between a juvenile and not a juvenile is arbitrary.

Let's look at the second one first. Yes, that line is arbitrary, but it's already been drawn. And we draw other arbitrary lines all the time. In most states you can start driving legally sometime around 16 years and six months. You can begin voting at 18. Drinking alcoholic beverages at 21. Run for president at 35.

The reason for these otherwise arbitrary lines is somewhere along the line, someone decided these were the ages we were mature enough to take on the responsibility. To understand the consequences of our actions. So if we're old enough to understand something is wrong at 18, why, if you do it when you're 16, are you treated as if you were 18? The idea of juvenile sentencing laws is we don't think you're mature enough to recognize the consequences of your actions – and then if you carry out an action, we decide that particular action, well, you really should have known better? Weird. If a 16-year-old tried to vote, would we count it, because she displays the initiative to want to vote? Of course not. Also weird.

And, as for three-strike laws, give me a break. You get caught shoplifting three times, you should be in prison for life? You can't be serious.

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One Comment

  • Posted 26/12/2009 at 07:50 | Permalink

    Of course all the things you mentioned aren’t quite at the same level.

    The NM reaction is way over the top, for sure. The 16-year old and life probably means a murder was committed without regard, and I feel no sympathy for those folks, so life it is. We just don’t condone murder, but we make allowances for those under 12 at least most of the time, since they haven’t had a chance to establish a pattern.

    As far as the 3-strikes rule, one of those crimes has to have been a serious felony, from what I’m understanding, and to me, if you’ve already had the felony and the second conviction, no matter how stupid, if you do something stupid again you just haven’t learned your lessons and consequences are consequences; I have no sympathy for that kind of stupidity either. Now, if none of the crimes were serious felonies, like what you mentioned, that would be another matter, but that’s not how I understood any states that have that law works.

    As for arbitrary ages, I think today’s kids are way more savvy than they were when I was a kid, and personally I wouldn’t mind reducing the age kids can be considered as adult for crimes, lowering the drinking age back to 18 and absolving parents of all responsibilities, which means those kids can be told to leave the house if they mess up under their parents good graces (now wouldn’t that be a kick; in Illinois, a person isn’t a legal adult until age 21), and leave the age for president exactly where it is now.

    Of course, all of this could be attributed to the rantings of a middle aged opinionated guy. lol

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