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Letters to the Editor: I treated young killers. No child should be tried as an adult

Men in jail cells extend their arms outside the bars
Incarcerated men at Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles in 2019.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
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To the editor: The question raised by columnist Nicholas Goldberg, “Should a 14-year-old school shooter spend his whole life in prison — or be eligible for parole?” is a good one.

A better question is why are prosecutors allowed to try a child as an adult? All that flows from that ill-advised authority is part of an unimaginable process, including a court handing down a sentence of life in prison without parole.

How many child development experts does it take pointing out that the adolescent brain is not sufficiently developed to understand the import of committing a murder, before we get it as a society?

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No child should face 70 or more years behind bars with adults, at a cost of millions of dollars to incarcerate him, and at an incalculable cost to his mental health. For a lot less, a minor could be remanded to a locked psychiatric treatment facility.

I supervised a clinical team for adjudicated minors for 15 years. We had murderers, rapists, armed robbers and more, all of whom we treated with intensive psychotherapy. One youngster lay in wait and shot his mother. Another poured gasoline on his mother’s paramour and set fire to her. No child is irredeemable, and every child deserves the opportunity for redemption.

Our juvenile justice system is bankrupt.

Teresa DeCrescenzo, Studio City

The writer, a licensed clinical social worker and marriage and family therapist, is a former chairperson of the California Board of Behavioral Sciences.

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