Monday, 6 June 2011

Roswell: Punishing teenagers as adults 
is wrong

Clayton County’s prosecutors chose not to charge as adults foolish teens caught in the reckless trend of sexting, sending each other sexually explicit text and photos.
But a 17-year-old in Cobb County could spend years in an adult prison and be forever labeled a sex offender for the same youthful folly.
Until our legislators, concerned about appearing soft on crime, become firm in their commitment to our youth and pass legislation that protects them from the thoughtless actions they too frequently make, the possibility of facing felony charges and consequences for teen tomfoolery is still there, in all counties across the state.
The overwhelming majority of states and many nations throughout the world require that the age of majority be 18, but here in Georgia our 17-year-olds are held to adult standards when it comes to crime and punishment.
Our suburban sheriffs would likely rather not take our children to adult prisons, but they are forced to follow the laws that our legislators enact.
Granted, the laws governing child pornography were created prior to the technology our children utilize daily, but these gadgets and their pitfalls have been around long enough that prudent people should seek to mitigate the potential damage current punishment would cause by discerning the difference between teenage shenanigans and exploitative adult predators.
But it goes beyond sexting for Georgia’s 17-year-olds as the cases pending against teens are cause for alarm in our suburbs. Do we in Georgia honestly value our children, teens and young adults?
From a criminal standpoint, it appears we do not, as we do not yet legally recognize the fact that the brains of children, teens and young adults are simply not hard-wired for full adult executive decision-making until about age 25.
We hold our youth competent and criminally responsible for their often immature and reckless choices, although frequently the crimes they commit are victimless and involve drugs that do more physical harm to the teens than to anyone else.
But even with the crimes known as the seven deadly sins, our children should not be considered incapable of redemption and tried as adults.
As the school year ends and summer breaks begin there’s a line that comes to mind from “Summertime Blues”: “I called my congressman and he said, quote, ‘I’d like to help you, son, but you’re too young to vote.’”
And that’s exactly the point. We cannot justify adult punishment for teens too young to vote for the legislators who make the laws that put them into adult prisons serving adult sentences.
Georgia could lead the nation by recognizing and allowing that, physiologically, young brains are not fully developed and capable of understanding the long-term ramifications of spur-of-the-moment actions, and that as a result, rehabilitation, treatment and community service are our remedies of choice.
Vicki Griffin lives in Roswell. Reach her at

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