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Rehab best for young offenders

By Mariah Ciani

Senior, High Tech High International

At the age of 12, a boy named Evan Savoi stabbed and killed his developmentally disabled playmate, 13-year-old Craig Sorger. He is currently serving a 26-year prison sentence for first-degree murder. He was tried as an adult for his crime, even though he was legally still a minor.

Many would argue that his crime was violent enough to validate his sentence, but what many don’t realize is what a 12-year-old can and cannot conceptualize. The age of 12 is the very beginning of an adolescent being able to understand that death is irreversible. How can we allow the government to try children for crimes where they don’t understand the repercussions?

Currently in America, more than 20 states allow children as young as 7 to be tried as adults, and in some states, this includes sentencing children to life in prison without parole. Could a child really understand that they did something so wrong it merited life in prison? A 7-year-old’s cognitive ability is at the level of simple mathematics and includes a vocabulary of only several thousand words, and their emotional development is at a stage where they are only beginning to understand and feel guilt and shame.

Although we cannot ignore that a child has committed a crime, we can better deal with it by rehabilitating instead of punishing the children. The juvenile justice system in America is obviously in need of reform, and a rehabilitation program would be the most successful and advantageous option.

This rehabilitative approach has been proven to work in Missouri’s juvenile justice system. Missouri has a recidivism rate of about 10 percent, which means that only about 10 percent of the children who go through the rehabilitation program are rearrested after their release. Currently, the average recidivism rate in the national juvenile justice system is about 40 percent.

Comparing these two statistics, it seems as though a switch to a rehabilitative program would be the logical solution. However, there is even more incentive. A rehabilitation program costs about $50,000 per year per child, whereas incarceration costs $100,000 per year per child.

Knowing that it is necessary for the United States government to reform its juvenile justice system, rehabilitation is clearly the best way to do so. It is the most cost-effective and is the longest-lasting solution.

Mariah Ciani is a La Jolla resident.