Prosecutors in Pennsylvania have charged an 11-year-old boy as an adult for murdering his father's girlfriend. They said that they intend to ask that he be imprisoned for the rest of his life under Pennsylvania's Juvenile Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) statute. Let me be clear: what the boy did is awful, and there should be consequences for it. But those consequences should include reforming his moral compass, rather than writing him off as unsalvageable. Putting him in an adult prison for the rest of his life is essentially denying the young boy the possibility of redemption and rehabilitation.
It surprises most people to realize that in forty-two states and under federal law, a child under 18 who commits a serious crime is classified as an adult for prosecution and punishment. In some states, children as young as ten are transformed instantly into adults for criminal justice purposes. Remember, these children are too young to buy cigarettes and alcohol, too young to shave, often too young to drive. Many of these kids still have stuffed animals on their beds. Yet, they are tried as adults, and if convicted, they are sent to adult prison, often for life without any possibility of parole.
There are currently at least 2,225 people incarcerated in the United States who are imprisoned for the rest of their lives for crimes they committed as children. These are not "super-predators" with long records of vicious crimes. In fact, an estimated 59 percent of these youngsters received the sentence for their first-ever criminal conviction.
The crime this boy committed was horrible. He hid a shotgun under a blanket and calmly walked downstairs and shot his father's girlfriend in the back of her head. This is a shocking crime. But it was also his first run-in with the law. Despite his clean record, state law requires that he be charged as an adult. And the District Attorney said he expects the boy to spend the rest of his life in prison.