On the one hand, it’s important to hold juveniles accountable for actions that violate the law. No one disputes that. But to treat a juvenile as if he or she has the same experience and perspective as an adult when making judgments is not appropriate.
Take the example of the Morris County teenager who earlier this month reportedly had a conflict or dispute with one of his high school teachers. Allegedly, the boy reacted impulsively and scrawled a threat of violence against the school on a bathroom wall. School officials responded to the perceived threat by stepping up security measures; even after identifying the suspect, they told parents there would be an armed police guard on the grounds moving forward.
The high school student, with no apparent behavioral or academic issues and no previous arrests, was charged with the third-degree crime of making a false public alarm. He cooperated in the investigation and was held at Morris County Juvenile Detention Center until his release on Monday. Upon release, he spent the weekend at a juvenile center working with psychologists on a counseling plan.
A Morris County prosecutor thought he should have been kept at the center for an indeterminate period while counseling options were reviewed. However, his criminal defense attorney noted that even an adult charged with such a crime would not likely face any period of incarceration. Questions remain over whether or how soon the defendant may go back to school and resume extracurricular activities.
Juvenile crimes, when handled appropriately, can often be resolved without leaving a permanent criminal record and getting counseling services where they are needed. A legal professional can help keep the focus on a young person’s rehabilitation as opposed to criminal penalties.