9:45 AM PST, March 5, 2013
I am grateful that the 17-year-old boy who was shot last year at Perry Hall High School is recovering ("Perry Hall High School shooter Gladden gets 35 years in prison" Feb. 26 2013).
And we can all agree that the defendant, Robert Gladden, deserves to be held accountable for injuring a fellow student.
But the 35-year prison sentence handed down to a 15-year-old for attempted murder — with no loss of life — should give us all pause and remind us of the danger of trying young people in adult courts.
We have to ask, what good will come from a sentence that consigns Mr. Gladden to an adult prison until he is 50 years old?
The judge in the case cited Mr. Gladden's apparent lack of remorse. But news accounts suggest this is an immature 15-year-old from a troubled home, a youth with tremendous needs who seems unable to understand or express remorse for his actions.
Now he is heading into Maryland's adult prison system, where he is unlikely to get the appropriate help to address the issues that contributed to his criminal behavior.
Research has shown that trying youth in the adult criminal justice system and sending them to prison — in an effort to reduce crime — tends to have the opposite effect. These young people become hardened to incarceration, and are more likely to commit crimes after their release than young people who stay in the juvenile justice system where they can receive needed treatment and services.
An unthinking "lock 'em up" approach does not adequately serve either the youth involved or the larger society. Maryland decision makers must rethink the practice of charging youth as adults and appropriately deal with all criminal cases involving youth in the system created especially for them — the juvenile justice system.
Monique Dixon, Baltimore
The writer is Director of the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Program for Open Society Institute-Baltimore.
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