A "Super-Predator" At Age 11
August 8, 1996
Los Angeles police secured an extraordinary court order allowing them to publicly name an 11-year-old boy who was their prime suspect in a crime -- despite state laws that protect anonymity of juveniles. The chief of police held a press conference to warn the community of the "dangerous and violent young man" police were seeking.
Police claim the 11-year-old boy and a group of other kids, kidnapped, raped and tortured a 13-year-old, tried to burn down the abandoned house where they had trapped her, and killed an 82-year-old woman next door.
If police are correct, the boy fits the description of Brookings Institution scholar John DiIulio's "super-predators," the small number of violent young people who commit much of the crime -- each generation of which is substantially more violent than the last.
A study of incarcerated male juveniles in California found that 94 percent were re-arrested as adults -- 82 percent for major felonies -- and 42 percent had more than nine arrests as adults in an eight-year followup period.
While most jurisdictions are moving to allow police leeway to name juveniles and punish them as adults at younger ages, the perverse effect of setting an absolute threshold is that it encourages gangs to recruit even younger boys.
An alternative would be to get rid of the age limit altogether and establish criminal responsibility based on the individual's ability to understand what he is doing and its wrongfulness, as we do in insanity-defense cases.
There are 40 million children in the United States under the age of 10, more than at any other time since the baby boom. People wonder whether there is anything that can be done to stop the potential super-predators among them before it's too late.
Source: Susan Estrich, "Violent Kids Can't Be Reformed," USA Today, August 8, 1996.
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