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Should young children who commit violent crimes be tried as adults?

Yesterday a Wisconsin court found two girls, aged 12 and 13, competent to stand trial for the alleged stabbing of another.

According to coverage of the story, the two girls orchestrated the murder plot in order to appease a fictional character created on the Internet, Slender Man.

While rare, it’s not unheard of for children to be involved in violent crimes, but when they occur they stand out and receive national attention. The nature of this crime is unusual in that it involves pleasing a fictional character. Fortunately this victim in this case survived in spite of suffering multiple wounds in the attack.

Of concern here is that children display behavior that is unacceptable for any adult, but could be released back into society when they reach adulthood. An adult who committed murder would face life in prison or a death sentence. That sentence varies with children, but should it?

Other instances of young children committing acts of murder have been recorded in the recent past.

In 2010 a then 11-year-old Pennsylvania boy was charged with the shooting death of his father’s fiancé. While a true outcome of his case is still to be decided, he will at least have to spend time in jail until 2018 when he reaches 21-years-old. What is his fate after that time? Will he be released, or face charges as an adult? Those answers are still unknown.

The most unfortunate aspect of these incidents is that, if convicted, these young children could face life in prison for a crime they committed before they were legally adults. Alternately they could be released into society only to commit a similar crime again.

There are conflicting views on this topic. Some believe that a young person could be rehabilitated, while others argue that if the tendency is displayed early, rehabilitation is unachievable.

These cases lead to difficult decisions for judges, attorneys and jurors.