Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What's There to "Grapple" With?

Florida law and SCOTUS rulings conflict over the matter of life sentences for minors. The courts and the politicians and the prosecutors and the defenders are all tangled up in what to do about that.

It shouldn't be a big deal, because this is a simple issue. I'm not big on the death penalty, but one of the few exceptions I'm willing to make is for politicians who legislate, or prosecutors who invoke, the prosecution of minors "as adults." They're right up there with Third World rebels who conscript child soldiers and require them to rape and kill their mothers as a rite of passage. They should be shuffled off to Starke in leg irons and orange coveralls and, as per Florida practice, be given their pick between electrocution or lethal injection.

Like most states, Florida makes very specific distinctions in law between categories of people designated "children" (or "minors") and "adults." If such distinctions are going to be made, they need to run equitably in both directions.

If the law says you're "not old enough" to drive a car, vote in an election, have consensual sex, marry without your parents' permission, enlist in the military, file a lawsuit, incorporate a business, sign a lease, buy a copy of Penthouse, get a tattoo, smoke a cigarette or drink a beer, how the hell can you be "old enough" to be reasonably expected to parse and comply with the 1013 chapters (split out under 48 separate titles) of Florida statute, under threat of the penalties prescribed therein for those who are considered "old enough" to do those other things?

You can't, and anyone who says you can is a lunatic, a cannibal or both.

They're kids, or they're not kids.

It's one or the other.

They can't be kids when you don't want them to puff on a Marlboro or make the beast with two backs with their BFF on your sofa while you're out golfing, then magically transform into adults the instant they run an old lady down in the crosswalk or stab the neighborhood crack dealer to death for a rock or two and some quick cash.

Florida is the fourth most populous state (After California, Texas and New York), but has America's third largest prison population, with nearly twice as many inmates as fourth-place New York1 (and somehow, even without -- or perhaps because it's without -- all that incarceration, New York manages to keep its rate of violent crimes per capita down to about 60% of that of Florida2).

Florida's politicians are looking for ways to cut the cost of keeping so many people in cages.

Here's one: Stop putting kids in those cages.

1. US Bureau of Justice Statistics [PDF].
2. Statistical Abstract of the United States, Violent Crimes per 100,000 Population -- 2006.
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