No Justice for the Juvenile

A blog article by Bonniejean Alford (Educator, Activist, World Citizen)

A few weeks ago Law and Order UK aired an episode on BBCAmerica that shocked me to no end (Goddard, 2010).  The basic premise of the episode was the murder of a six year old boy by two other children, females ages ten and thirteen.  In the end, the evidence showed that it was the ten year old that actually committed the murder, while the thirteen year old did nothing to try and stop it, even though she did attempt to save the boy when the ten year old left.  Despite her inaction in the actual murder, she was indeed complicit in the murder’s cover up.  Suffice to say, while the act itself was heinous and shocking, the way the British government handles juvenile defendants was an even greater surprise.

Simply put, the British government does not take into account the age of the offenders, even if they pay special attention to the age of the victim, or at least as represented in this television show  (Goddard, 2010).  When the truth came out, the thirteen year old came to an agreement with the prosecution where they testified against the ten year old.  While the crown prosecutor did feel sympathy for the young defendant and the psychological plight her family had put her through, he was charged with seeking prosecution to the full extent of the law, no matter whether or not it worked toward the ultimate pursuit of justice.

Truth be told, in the American system of justice, this ten year old would have been immediately transferred to the juvenile justice system and likely received treatment rather than punishment, unless of course it was proven that trial as an adult was the best course of action.  While the crown prosecutor did express his desire to have the case transferred to a juvenile status whereby the child offender would automatically receive treatment instead of jail, he was bound by rules that require a petition to classify a defendant as a child if certain conditions are met.  Apparently in this case, they were not.

Ultimately, the case became ground in political and societal upheaval, with great contradiction as to what would be the right course of action.  Even the murdered child’s mother requested clemency and treatment, even if it wasn’t warranted by the legal system.  C. Wright Mills (1959) would clearly argue that those in this situation are very much trapped by the very legal system they are trying to protect.  On one hand, the murdered child deserves justice.  But on the other hand, the ten year old murderer that faced abuse and horrendous treatment by her own mother learned behavior that was not befitting of a child.  And since that behavior involved intent, there was no choice but to be trapped in the realm of legal limits.

Further, the actions of the ten year old without question impacted the society as a whole, just as the environment she was raised in impacted her very outlook and behavior.  This reciprocal reaction between the macro society and the micro individual is an inevitable outcome of heinous acts that take a prominent role in everyday life (Mills, 1959).  Had the ten year old girl not been exposed to violence and prostitution by her mother, it is quite possible that the murder would never have occurred.  Further, if the media and society had not taken such a concentrated interest in the case, then it may have been possible to find a way out of the trap and transfer the status of the defendant to that of a juvenile, allowing her to get the treatment she so desperately needed.

In the end, justice was far from served with this case as depicted on Law and order UK.  But it reminds us of the need for vigilance in the pursuit of justice.  If portrayed accurately in this fictionalized television show, the manner in which the British government treats child offenders is a gross miscarriage of justice, one that leaves much to be desired in regard to the fair treatment of individuals.  While the American juvenile justice system does have its flaws, it goes to great lengths to recognize that there is indeed a difference between adult criminals and juvenile ones (Bartollas and Miller, 2011).

Juvenile violence is on the rise and shows such as Law and Order UK may be trying to show children what can happen if they choose to participate in such actions, but does little to compete with the onslaught of violent television and video games that seem to present violence as an acceptable behavior.  Without delving further into this connected issue, recognizing Law and Order UK’s role in the ever present influence of the media is an important component to understanding how this show’s representation of justice, or lack there of, impacts society as a whole.  Without question it does impact society’s expectations about how children should be treated within the justice system.  How we go about putting those expectations into practice is another issue altogether.

Bartollas, Clemens and Staurt J. Miller.  2011.  Juvenile Justice in America, 6th edition.  Boston: Prentice Hall.
Goddard, Andy (director).  2010.  “Broken.”  Law and Order UK.  Original British television Air date, 9 September 2010.
Mills, C. Wright.  1959 (2000).  The Sociological Imagination: Fortieth Anniversary Edition.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.


32 thoughts on “No Justice for the Juvenile

  1. I believe that the child shouldn’t get cruel punishment but should receive help. If your being beat and exposed to prostitution at a young age that all you know, and start to think its ok. If it’s found that the child were being abused and exposed to such things, as prostitution the parent should be punishment. I don’t agree with the system of government in the UK but the rules and rules they are set to follow. It’s the parents job to tell you right from wrong but yet you cant blame the 10yr old because she wasn’t taught much at all. The crime could have been stopped by the 13yr old that has perfect sense at that age to know that shouldn’t be going on. In the US you get punishment just for being at the crime scene even though you may not have committed any act but just being there will get you great punishment. The punishment im not fine with but you have to live with the consequences if nothing can be overturned. What I do believe is that an example should be set by giving punishment not to be cruel but to let kids around know its not ok to take another persons life. If an example isn’t set kids have common sense they will think its ok to commit crime because they know they wont get punishment for it. If you make an example out of the girl problems like that wont occur as much. Both the child and her mother should be set examples of what can happen if you do those things.

    1. I think it all boils down to social change. Those things that once were are no longer. Things such as rules and roles for children and their place in society, no longer exist.. Kids now a days want to have a voice or an opinion, but they don’t want to pay the price for this voice (responsibility and accountability). How can those not in a position of knowledge, wisdom or experience make adult decisions?
      I think kids should be home when the street lights come on. Dinner should be with the entire family present by 6:00pm, kids should clear the table directly after dinner and do the dishes, homework, t.v., bath and bed. These were exercises of disciplining, listening, following directions and learning routine which helps in the adult world. Kids these days are not interested in family time, nurturing ,etc.

    2. Yes, we should look at how to handle this type of situation, but more importantly, we should be asking” how” and “why” our youth are so troubled? As far as finding justice in the UK, I am really not expecting justice in a Monarchy. Today’s kids are no longer youths, they are individuals who are being exposed to adult situations and problems. They are being left to raise themselves and lookout for themselves. What is society and the plight of our next generation coming to?

  2. I found this article interesting. I was under the impression that the UK had a better juvenile system than the U.S. That information was new to me.

    I agree, she should have received a less harsh sentence. If this is an accurate portrayal the juvenile justice system in the UK, it defiantly has problem. However, this is a TV show. It was probably grounded in some fact, but this very problem in the system was probably ramped up for dramatic reasons.

    I have to stand in strong opposition to the comment about video games. I’ve always thought that whenever anyone uses them as a reason for violent behavior, it is working as a scapegoat and avoiding the real behavioral problems. There have been numerous studies on this issue, with most just ending up contradicting each other.

  3. I’ve seen the episode in question, and when I was watching it I was struck by how similar it was to an episode of “Law and Order: SVU”. In that episode (titled “Juvenile”) it was two boys aged 10 and 13, accused of raping a grown woman and brutally stabbing her to death. Like in the UK version, the 10 year old is more dominant (calculating, intelligent, dangerous) than the 13 year old, and it is the dominant one who actually commits the crimes. But in this SVU episode, the less dominant boy is, through the magic of the US legal system, sent to adult court and convicted of murder merely because his age was on the wrong side of 13. The boy who actually did the rape and killing (who is portrayed as a possible sociopath) is sent to juvenile court, where he’ll probably serve at most eight years— eight years for rape and murder. Here viewers must ask themselves “Is it right that there’s the slightest chance that a sociopath can be effectively pardoned for their heinous actions just because they weren’t over 18 when they committed their crimes?” And the answer is: There is no easy answer.

    The American legal system is so jumbled when it comes to juvenile crime— or any crime, really, but juvenile cases seem particularly difficult. First a child offender has to make it through a juvenile system— getting into a juvenile court is not necessarily a guarantee. There have been many children charged as adults, sometimes because of the repulsive nature of their crimes, sometimes because of their social standing or race. There are kids sent to adult prisons for crimes that could have stemmed from the fact that they had child-like mentalities, and there are kids who are beyond help who are sent to juvenile facilities only to grow up into adult offenders. Either way you cut it, on this side of the pond or the other, legal systems aren’t perfect.

  4. Violence and Temper has always been part of the human nature. I believe that the environment as well as the family life where the kids live in has a decisive factor on the way they turn out. I agree that there is an injustice in the way the system treated the 10 year old. I see an even greater issue in hand and I find myself asking many other questions that I cannot get straight forward answers to. How come the abuse that the 10 year old suffered from her mother did not get noticed by anyone from school, church, friends or even neighbors? What does this actually say about our community and lifestyle? And now that this abuse has been exposed during the trial, is the mother being prosecuted for her crimes against her daughter, especially as in my regard she is the real criminal.

    1. I love your point about the accountability of the community and of the parents. Why isn’t the mother accused of abuse? And the community, why isn’t it forced to reform itself in order to better support its children? I often wonder about this when I watch some SVU episodes, and, sadly, when I hear about real instances of kids committing crimes. There’s also the fact that in many parts of America, community either no longer exists or has to be carved out and cultivated, which only puts more responsibility in parenting.

      1. You bring up a very interesting point. I agree with your views on the accountability of the community and the parents. But I also believe that at some point the child needs to realize what is acceptable and not acceptable in society. Yes, she already has tainted views on wrong and wright. However, it seems common to realize that committing murder is not a norm.

      2. Yeah, in most cases the community needs to be closer but it is still not enough. People are born into good families with both parents that have stable jobs but still decide to harm others or harm themselves. I have also seen that some children are born in not so desirable conditions but still choose to better themselves and do good. I believe that no matter how hard we try it’s up to the individual to choose to be good or evil.

  5. This brings to light that the juvenile system in the UK has serious flaws. There is no logical explanation as to why age would not factor in when considering punishments. Someone’s upbringing affects who they are and what they decide is right and wrong. At such a young age, it is almost impossible to make that distinction. The legal system should acknowledge this and try to help the juveniles that need it.

  6. This article was interesting because I also thought that the UK government was similar to ours in the United States. It goes to show that the UK has serious flaws in their juvenile system. It’s sad to think that a child who was exposed to such acts growing up will think that those acts are the norm in all of society. They are expected to have problems and without getting help they will never be able to lead a “normal” life. Sending the child to regular jail will only allow them to live on with their problems without ever really fixing them. If they were to be released from prison, who’s to say they wouldn’t commit the crime again. The way family plays a role in your life will play a part in how you turn out as an adult. I don’t believe that the parent is all the blame for this because I feel that it’s almost common sense to know that murdering someone is not the right thing to do.

    1. I completely agree with your stance on the article. According to the lecture notes from my introduction to Sociology class: “socialization begins at birth and continues till death. The social environment is created by direct and indirect contact”. The importance of socialization interrelates with a family structure. It is evident that if a child is neglected and raised without adequate support from their parents, they may lack the direction needed to make their own decisions. Parents are the backbone to a family. Although most parents strive to raise their children right, there is only so much a parent can do to protect their child from knowing what is right and wrong. I also agree with the fact that parents should not be the ones to blame because no parent will raise their child to go out and murder someone. Just like why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold decided to lead the mass massacre at Columbine, all factors must be considered, which includes the mental state of mind. No matter if the one that carries out the crime is a juvenile or not, there is always an underlying reason why anyone would commit such an immoral crime.

  7. Although I am not familiar with the law I find that very unfair and not a demonstration of justice. I am glad to know that the law is different here in America, but I am more distrubed at the thought of a ten year old commiting murder to a six year old. Although i’m sure these violent cruel acts of crime have been commited since the beginning of time I do feel that the violent video games that are being played by millions of children all over the world has great influence to the acts of crimes being looked at as cool and acceptable. As well as violent television which is easily accessible to children of all ages. Yes, our American justice system does distinguish the difference between an adult and juvenille act of crime and justice is established in that sense. But what about justice for the limitation of making these violent games and shows, and for those who are repeatedly abused within families or even outside of families, which can affect a person’s ability to understand right from wrong.

    I believe that by the age of ten most children understand what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. But there is still much guidance and teachings needed to educate our children in the right direction. With influence from society and an abusive parent, the misleading guidance can lead a child in the wrong direction. And justice then needs to be served. The ten year old murderer clearly needs medical, physical, and psychological treatment.

  8. This article was very interesting to me. I was not aware that the UK handled situations like this for juveniles in their legal system. Of course I feel sorry for the six year old boy that was murdered, along with his family, but I also feel sorry for the ten year old that committed the murder. She clearly had a terrible upbringing; her mother should not have been one to raise a child. Some people just aren’t meant to have kids. How the little girl was raised is most likely the cause of her actions. Seeking help rather than receiving a cruel punishment would definitely be sufficient for the girl because that may give her the opportunity to completely turn her life around.

    1. I agree juvenile delinquents should have some sort of help and treatment. They should not be labelde as criminals and be given a second chance to succeed at life. If they were to be as high level criminals it would not change them for the better and would not make an example out of them. It would only cause the juvenile to hate society more than she or he already would.

  9. What I’m wondering is, why isn’t the mother being punished? She’s clearly responsible for what happened. If the child hadn’t grown up in such a terrible environment, she wouldn’t have believed it was okay to do what she did. I feel sorry for the girl because instead of getting a chance at reform, she’s going to be punished because of the way she was brought up. Although I believe that this is terrible, in some ways I can understand where the UK government is coming from. A child’s life was taken, and that child absolutely deserves justice. Also, in regards to what Ciara had mentioned about the possibility of one of the children being a sociopath, I believe that if a child can be considered a sociopath, they should serve the full sentence. Sociopaths do not learn from their mistakes, therefore they do not deserve a chance at reform. The moment they get released they will get back into their bad habits. But, obviously it can be debated whether or not the child is/is not a sociopath. I only mean this in cases where it is clear what the child’s intentions were. All in all, the juvenile justice system in the US seems to be on the right track. There are always going to be exceptions and special cases, but we need to think of the welfare of our society.

  10. Obviously, this exposes some major flaws within the UK justice system. As mentioned in the other comments, there is no reason why age should not factor into the punishment extolled upon a child. Perhaps a punishment to the fullest extent of the law may not be the right course of action for this situation. Yes, a child’s life was taken and yes, this is a tragedy. However, is is possible that through counseling/psychiatric treatment mandated by a court system, that this child who has obvious problems right now could be rehabilitated in a healthy manner than that of lockup? Jail or Juvy as I understand it is not a fun place to be. Perhaps an alternative treatment would be the best course of action in this instance.

    1. What about when the treatment doesn’t work or if the patient just like doing evil deeds? is jail needed then or even worse what if they commit the same crime again? If they would have been in jail that future victim or victims that they could harm, wouldn’t suffer and keep living their normal lives.

  11. The Law and Order episode you mention sounds very similar to a real life crime that occurred in Liverpool in 1993. I am from the UK and recall this incident very well, as the entire country was disgusted over the murder. The Jamie Bulger case hit the headlines when Jamie, aged 2, was abducted, tortured, and murdered by two ten year old boys. It was such a shock as these boys (Robert Thompson and Jon Venables) were only ten years old. They had only just reached the age of criminal responsibility (in the UK). Now I am an ex-police detective from London, so I have had a lot of dealings with the British criminal justice system. We do treat juveniles apart from adults: we have special youth courts, anonymity for defendants, no media coverage in court, screens in court, a relaxed less formal court room (no wigs or gowns). Also, sentencing for juveniles is different and probation and suspended sentences are common (with youth offending teams working throughout the process).
    The only time a youth is treated as an adult in an adult court room is for murder. This is comparable to 44 of the US states also treating juveniles as adults for the offense of murder (and other gang related crimes).

  12. This article reminded me of how cruel humans can be. The episode also reminds me of an episode on criminal minds where a child killed his own brother just because his little brother broke his plane toy model. It turned out that the child was a born sociopath. The child didn’t just kill him but also shoved toy parts down his throat. This shows how in our society there isn’t a difference with how your raised. It also shows how the law system isn’t doing enough with just applying the death penalty or just putting them in jail. it also needs to provide rehabilitation to improve the person and turn them into a productive member of society.

  13. I believe that we should raise our youth with strong awareness of their environment and understanding of consequences that can be faced. There are many deviant youth that think they are invincible in society and that they do not need to be held accountable for their actions. With recidivism, our youth may get away with breaking the law once, but once they get caught with repeated offenses, they may end up in jail. In the case of someone that was related to me, this individual always had juvenile crimes and status offenses in high school and through the help of lawyers and the justice system, he expunged many charges that could have been on his record if he was an adult. Unfortunately, when he was an adult the seriousness of these crimes and offenses was amplified and he could not remove these from his record as an adult. The moral of the story is that our youth are sometimes falsely led to think they can get away with anything because they are only minors, but these behaviors can carry into adulthood and have serious consequences.

    1. Yes, I also believe that we should raise our youth to learn the consequences of their actions. However, some youth are so deviant that they don’t care and keep breaking the law, such as an old friend of mine who beside the fact of having both parents and them loving him so much he still decided to be a criminal.

  14. What is the purpose of diversion programs? They are here help protect our youth from recidivism, but this does not entirely prevent them from re-offending. I am a strong believer of diversion programs. For four years, I was a volunteer for Peer Jury, a program that is built on the principles of Balanced and Restorative Justice. Being a part of this program was both rewarding and an eye opening experience. As a juror, I served as a mentor to the fellow juvenile offenders. The program helps to give our youth direction and helps to fulfill the program’s goals, which consist of social competency, accountability, and community safety. In a sense, this program is remedial for actually going to court and being charged with offenses. It allows juvenile offenders to redeem themselves from poor decisions that have hurt them and others around them. The juvenile offenders are assigned community service and given a set of consequences, such as apologizing to the victim after we have conferenced. I believe that these diversion programs are a lot more effective because it gives the offender time to reflect upon his or her actions and wrongdoings in order to not do them again in the future. It is all about second chances in the hope of our youth improving and not re-offending in the future.

    1. As someone not incredibly familiar with the juvenile justice system, just by reading your post Marisa, I have considered it and ultimately agree that it seems like a very effective way to respond to juvenile crime. I think that while crime at any age does not change the severity, we just need to punish accordingly to the defendants’ age.

      1. I agree Marisa and Jessica. Don’t we see it in ourselves – that as we age, we start to realize that our parents aren’t right about everything? When we’re young, we think they know everything and that their opinions are always right, but as we age and think critically about our childhood, we can see where our parents were wrong – sometimes grossly wrong – and we don’t want to repeat the same mistakes. For example, the last few generations of Americans have hopefully seen ways in which their parents are more racist than their younger generations. HOPEFULLY there is improvement with each THINKING generation.

        So your point is well-taken – that diversion programs give youth a chance to learn what they did is wrong and learn ways of channeling their emotions in a healthy way. Sometimes the culture (household) you grow up in has deviant ways of dealing with trials and issues. Diversion programs teach young people about what societal norms expect in terms of moral and ethical behavior – and are proven to be far more effective than strict jail time.

        In short, although crimes may have the same outcome whether committed by a 10 year old or 20 year old, the punishment for a 10 year old must be different from that of a 20 year old. The criminal justice system can hope to reform a young person, whose brain is far from full development.

  15. I believe that this case is somewhat right and somewhat wrong. I believe that if you are that young you should be punished for life, what little kid does that and does not realize what they are doing. Neither realized that it was wrong! Sure mabye they are young, but sending them to jail is the right call. Get them treatment, and make them stay in jail for a very long time. Not 8 years, that is just terrible. If a 20 year old did that its life in prison. Age should not matter, keep them in all in jail longer.

    1. Aron, I disagree when you say that age doesn’t matter. Although crimes may have the same outcome whether committed by a 10 year old or 20 year old, the punishment for a 10 year old must be different from that of a 20 year old. The criminal justice system can hope to reform a young person, whose brain is far from full development. Diversion programs give youth a chance to learn what they did is wrong and learn ways of channeling their emotions in a healthy way. Sometimes the culture (household) you grow up in has deviant ways of dealing with trials and issues. Diversion programs teach young people about what societal norms expect in terms of moral and ethical behavior – and are proven to be far more effective than strict jail time.

      But your point is well taken. Sometimes diversion programs don’t work, and a 10 year old murderer could still be a murderer when he’s 20. Then there should be no mercy if he enters the criminal justice system for a second time.

  16. I believe that the child should have received help mentally rather then serving a sentence. If his mother was bringing him around prostitutes and beating him, that might be all he know. I think that the 13 year old should have know right from wrong and stopped it before it happened instead of waiting until the crime was already committed to try and save the 6 year old. I not get how the UK government can operate like this. The 10 year old boy is still very young and I believe that with some proper counseling and therapy he would eventually be able to understand better. I totally agree with one of the responses above. I believe that video games is making a difference with the crimes committed, I feel like there are more crimes committed at a younger age then ever before. I don’t think he should be punished for life, he just needs some treatment.

  17. Although I do agree that we need to try and prevent problems before they occur, I think more importantly justice should be applied. I understand the child is young but at the end if the day he committed a murder. I think one of our biggest problems in American society is that we let criminals off to light. I personally have been to the UK several times. I never feel scared walking down a street there. I cannot say the same for America. It all starts with the justice system, the individuals in the UK understand if they commit a crime they will pay the highest price for doing so. This process of swift deserving is just what we need in America. Also, in the UK there are no police brutality laws. I really think these fundamentals are why the streets of Western Europe are much safer than those of the United States. I personally think the American justice system should take a few notes from that episode.

  18. I agree, justice wasnt served the right way. of course you can punish someone for stealing, and slap them on the wrist and let them go, but in parts of the worlds people dont get off so easily and it doesnt matter what age you are you get your hand cut off for simply stealing. now if we were to improve the criminal justice system to re educate the criminals and re enter into society when found cured. i beileve its a problem in our current american justice system. look at our prisons and jails, there way past capacity and the money our tax payers pay to keep them in there, feed them, and so on. its a problem we need to address, im also talking about pettie crimes if you commit murder past 18 you should be at the hands of justice. dont do the crime if you cant do the time. but also another point is the kids need to be raised right. the first person they look up to when they are growing up is their parents, they are the ones telling them from right or wrong.

  19. I don’t think the 10 year old kid should get punished for this. Yes, he was an accomplice to murder but he is young. Some kids just don’t want to open their mouth and tell the truth because they might have to pay the price. If anything, this kid needs mental help from all the trauma. He saw murder right in front of his eyes and all they are going to do is punish this kid? He needs guidance and support through this case. At least until they know he is not capable of hurting himself or others in the end.

  20. I agree with this blog post because in most situations the child can be helped and provided different ways of learning that change their perspective of right and wrong. The child isn’t always to blame but blame be placed on the parents and figure out if the child is in an abusive home like the situation from the law and order episode provided above. Children don’t just know right from wrong and can’t just figure it out from looking around and watching television. Children need to be guided and taught what is right and what is wrong and how to treat people the way they should be treated. Deeper research should be put into a juvenile case if trying to be proved guilty and another way of conviction beside through punishment. Maybe just offer a solution that can help improve the child behavior and demeanor. Children have to learn through lessons and at a certain age figure that out for their own but definitely not as they are still children.

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