Minors, Murder* and Mental Illness -- Where lies Justice?

When should children be charged as adults?** Is denying care to a seriously ill child fair punishment for a brutal crime, or cruel and unusual? At the same time, should the victim’s voice be ignored?

*Attempted Murder, but under the law, the punishment works out the same.

**For reference, other systems have tried to codify this, right or wrong; under Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act, no child under the age of twelve can be charged for a criminal offence, period and no child under the age of fourteen can be given an adult sentence. Children fourteen and older can be given an adult sentence, but not necessarily tried as adults. Only in cases of extreme public safety is a judge supposed to lift the identity protections for a child.

As for the “superpredator” myth… Well, that one has done a hell of a lot of damage, and not just in cases like this. The entire school-to-prison-pipeline is due to this myth: in terms of what that ideology has done, a single mentally ill girl is essentially by-catch in the dragnet that has swept up thousands of children of colour and branded them for life. That myth deserves it’s own discussion for the toxic mess it’s made.


When they ARE adults! Trying children as adults is merely a “convenience” to a sadistic culture where justice means retribution. And as such, it seriously undermines the societal consensus about what developmentally constitutes an adult or child. If a child has a sufficient understanding of the consequences of their actions, then does it not naturally follow that they are also entitled to the rights and privileges of adulthood, as well as its penalties for wrongdoing? If a kid is found competent to stand trial as an adult, and subsequently acquitted, shouldn’t they then also be emancipated, allowed to vote, etc? No, because it is only for show. Authoritarian governments always have an unquestioned disparity between citizens blame outweighing their agency, at any age.

I would say “cruel and unusual” - and also completely ineffective. It is rather pointless to punish a person for being ill.

Of course it should not be ignored. But that does not entitle them to vengeance. That would be a simplistic, shortsighted, and destructive model of potential justice. If we agreed that simple vengeance was enough, we could do it ourselves. The whole idea of a formal legal system is that there can be better accountability, and maybe even some expertise involved. If courts and prisons are content with barbarism then they discredit their own institution and are no better than vendetta.

The victim’s voice is weighed in making an informed, deliberate decision as to what the best remedy might be.


Or, better yet, don’t base the sentence upon what the perpetrator deserves, but upon what gives them the best chance for rehabilitation.

The idea children get a lesser sentence is based on the fact that the “justice” system actually tries to rehabilitate children (or, at least, puts a nominal effort towards that goal).

If you take people away from society solely for society’s protection, put your efforts towards making those people no longer a threat to society, and then release them when they no longer pose a threat, then it doesn’t matter so much if you’re trying a child or an adult (although the child will probably be released sooner as children’s minds are more malleable).

The justice system in the US isn’t about rehabilitation, though. It’s about torture. It’s about inflicting as much bad shit upon the inmates as the courts will allow them to, because the inmates are criminals and “deserve it.”

It disturbs me, the rampant dehumanization. I mean, look at that article. The victim’s parents think the schizophrenic girl got off easy. She had to deal with untreated schizophrenia for months. If that isn’t cruel and unusual punishment, I don’t know what is. I’m not surprised that they didn’t treat her depression; they probably shrugged and said, “We don’t send people to prison to be happy.”

And when I say things like this, people usually reply, “Well, boo hoo. I’m not shedding any tears for a criminal.” There’s a seriously disturbing lack of empathy for anyone convicted of a crime.

Our actions are based on our circumstances and our habits, and, for most people, most of each are based on who our parents were, which is entirely out of our control. I’m not saying that people aren’t to blame for their own actions — you can generally change your own habits with a lot of time and effort, if not your circumstances — but that this single-minded focus on “blame” overlooks that finding someone to blame and torturing them doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help the victim, it doesn’t help society, and, at best, it provides a moment of sadistic catharsis and schadenfreude for the victim and/or their family, which isn’t really healthy for them either.

I’m not saying that people who commit crimes shouldn’t be punished. There is a need for negative reinforcement, and for disincentives in the minds of potential criminals. But, on the long run, you know what works better than negative reinforcement? Positive reinforcement. You know what work better than disincentives? Incentives. You want fewer criminals? Create better habits in the ones you already have, and turn them out into better circumstances than the ones they were in when they committed the crime.

If you take the broken and try to fix them, you’ll get a society with better people. If you take the broken and try to break them further, all you’ll get is a sky-high recidivism rate. And that’s exactly what the US has.

And it saddens me.


MrPants is a criminal lawyer, so we know a lot of criminal lawyers, and one of them specializes in youth offenders. She’s amazing, a workhorse, its all legal aid so she works 100s of hours she doesn’t get paid for, and over and over and over again, she sees the crown and court trying to try kids as adults. Kids from impoverished backgrounds, kids with mental health issues, kids with addiction issues, homeless kids, kids of all stripes. She’s doing the work of a saint, honestly. Our system is messed up, but I think our approach to youth offences is a good start.


Which is why I am glad that the circumstances under which they can have been legislated and aren’t simply “how judge X feels”. Yes, legislation can be rewritten, but that’s why elections matter.

Of course, elections are another issue in the States, and every time someone advocates for it here, I cringe: I am specifically speaking about elected court officials, especially judges. It’s not “justice” when you make your decisions not based on the evidence of the case but what’s likely to get you re-elected. That’s mob rule.

It’s funny how we think that Andy the judge and Mike the prosecutor shouldn’t tell Bob the pipefitter or Jack the HVAC guy* how to do their jobs, we think it’s perfectly correct that Bob and Jack can dictate how Andy and Mike do theirs.

*Yes, I do know that these are specialised trades requiring a lot of expertise, that shouldn’t be done by rank amateurs. That is precisely why I chose them for the comparison.


I think a lot of this is laws written to be punitive when the goal, supposedly, is rehabilitation. Then, toss in the sad truth that children can commit heinous acts without understanding the consequences, and you see the problem.

In a perfect world where laws were written only after careful consultation with experts in a given field, this sort of thing would be far less common - someone would set a hard limit on “adult”, based on actual research, and mental competency standards would be decided the same way. Since these people mostly do NOT write laws, however, you get this mess.

Canada is better at dealing with this, but you still get judges hamstrung by the laws when they clearly shouldn’t be applied. There’s this fundamental incompatibility between the intransigence of a written, static law and the desire for the law to “fit the crime”. The problem with the latter case is once you allow for subjectivity, now everyone has an opinion on whether or not a given decision met their subjective view on the crime.

I’m not sure what the solution is outside of lower, or no, mandatory minimums, and judges that are insulated by the politics of elections, while still being answerable to some body that isn’t itself affected by self-interest (a judges-only panel is going to be reluctant to censure other judges, but then a group like politicians may not be able to be impartial, etc.)


I agree, Canada is nowhere near to perfect, but at least we’ve codified the fact that you can’t put an eight-year-old in prison or give a twelve-year-old a life sentence of hard time. It’s also the system I am a little more familiar with, by comparison.

Mandatory minimums are the exact kind of fuckery you get when you create laws based on “what’s gonna sound good to the electorate” versus “what’s actually proven sound for society”. It’s one of the reasons why sometimes I don’t strategic vote for a win, but angling towards who will be the best official opposition.

Of course, as you said, subjectivity gets us “affluenza” and the sentence in the Brock Turner case. I don’t know the answer, either, but it’s not in locking sick kids up and throwing away the key. And we need to start asking these questions of the people who do make our rules, to make sure that they don’t think status quo (or worse) is okay or desirable.


Oh man, do I have stories about those!!
Along with mandatory minimums came “mandatory fines”.
So even if the judge rules “time served” they have to impose a fine, on mentally ill homeless people.
Mr.Pants keeps $20 bills on his person at all times, because the judges will “fine” someone $20 and he hands over $20 to the court clerk. Its a joke.

Oh man, I have stories about Mimico too! The “Super prison” the Harper govt opened. Its a joke too. Its mostly empty because guards refused to work there, nurses refuse to work, lawyers refuse to go there, its a clusterfuck of a million dollar boondoggle and NO ONE is talking about it. Inmates are being sent to Penetanguishene instead of Mimico! And they prefer it!! Fucking nuts. And don’t get me started on the food!

Sorry, totally off topic from minors, but man, Mimico is fucked!


Amazing how the Tories always spend so much money while they huff and puff about being tough and being righteous and frugal.


Don’t worry, it’s not too off-topic. There’s a reason I created those tags: it’s a subject I would like to dig into. This article happened to provide a good launch point, but there are a lot of ways our “justice systems” are anything but.

It’s not like they were getting paid to do so. I mean that literally. Many of them were not getting paycheques.


Would that be Project Phoenix again?

(FYI for the uninitiated: Project Phoenix was a software project to centralise payroll for Canadian government employees. The software doesn’t work, and the people who were supposed to manage it weren’t trained. Employees are owed thousands of dollars from months and months back; others are being overpaid. The Tories have tried to blame the current Liberal government for the mess, but the truth is they made the mess and then tried to bury it. The Liberals have been up-front about their attempts to fix the problem, but they haven’t resolved it totally yet.)


How long did that go on? I ask just because so many people live paycheck-to-paycheck. And what do they do in that case, put in a request to transfer to a place that pays? How long does that take?


See @gadgetgirl answer above. It’s not just that location –


Wow. I work in software and I’m human, not without fault, I make mistakes, I’ve had my share of screwups, so I can totally understand bugs. But that…that is…just wow.


Oh its insane. And we’re approaching the TWO YEAR mark of this clusterfuck.
People are not retiring, people are sitting on thousands of extra dollars even after being told they don’t have to pay it back, its madness.

The Conservatives are trying to pin this on the Liberals, but the Libs inherited this mess they didn’t create it.

I honestly don’t know why they have stuck with the system…


Having been involved in smaller versions of similar software messes… it may be too late to roll back. IIRC one of the issues was the Tories laid off the old regional payroll offices right after the initial launch, so the knowledge and resources to run the old systems are already long gone.


If you can’t make the victims whole, you can’t restore justice.

I know a lot of people here in America insist that the death penalty is some kind of justice, but killing one person will not restore another’s life.


All of this. The USA is a nation where prison rape is a feature, not a bug. Seriously. When I speak about prison issues with people, and I do because I care deeply about them, I am almost always disgusted with the response. Hell, most people believe prisons are not rough enough.

Forget prisons, people here even want their jails to be punitive,harsh and torturous. In the United States a jail is a place where accused persons wait for trial. Or at least those accused persons who cannot afford bail. Regardless of their financial circumstance, the accused are still presumed innocent before the law. Yet, finding a sympathetic ear for horrible jail conditions is nigh impossible.

These attitudes cause me to think there is ultimately no hope for the USA.


Our justice system is just one of a thousand such things.