Having gone on Twitter this afternoon to catch up on my requests and direct messages, I saw topic trending that reminded of my own teen years. Apparently, there are two states in the Union where teenagers are automatically tried as adults for crimes committed: New York and North Carolina. The twitterverse is naturally opposed to such matters, pointing out logically enough that those who are too old to vote or smoke or join the military should be too old to be sent to jail with hardened adult criminals. Of course, the obvious counterargument that could be made is that there are plenty of people who are hardened criminals at the age of sixteen, and that our teens are growing up in some respects in our contemporary age at an alarming rate. On the one hand there is the conviction that as teenagers there would be no such thing as a fair trial according to a jury of one’s peers  and on the other there is an equally firm conviction that those who are guilty of heinous crimes should be tried based on the severity of those crimes and the harm done.
Into this impasse I would like to add an anecdote from my own teen years. After having grown up in the rural South outside of Plant City, Florida, I spent my high school years as a token white kid in a neighborhood consisting of black former public housing residents who had taken opportunity of a generous program allowing for first-time home ownership in land that had been reclaimed from some kind of garbage dump . For some time my next door neighbor was a single father who had several sons. One of the sons was a gentle sort of fellow with whom I enjoyed playing handball and exploring our neighborhood with, but unfortunately he had a brother that fell into a bad crowd in the surrounding neighborhood and ended up being convicted as an adult at the age of 13 for the brutal gang rape of a female classmate. In shame, the single family and the rest of his kids were forced out of the neighborhood. I never saw or heard about them ever again. Nevertheless, I have not forgotten them. Was an immature thirteen year old too young to be held responsible as an adult for his crimes and sins? Was it right that the whole family should be punished for the misdeeds of one of their members? What was done to help the young woman recover from the horror of being raped, something that can scar one for life, as I am painfully aware of myself. This is the sort of situation we are dealing with when it comes to jailing children as an adults, dealing with the biological realities of people who are involved in business that is way over their head with little supervision, little sense, and a world that is showing increasing lack of mercy in pardoning offenses.
It is my belief that we go about questions of crime and punishment all wrong. My own approach to the subject of penology comes from the biblical scriptures, where there is little interest in imprisoning people. We may see from a reading of the Bible that the biblical system of law did not involve prison sentences as a punishment for crimes. To be sure, the Bible speaks often of prisons and jails, but these are seen as having been run by heathen nations like Egypt and Rome, or by Hellenized and corrupt Jews in the Second Temple Period, not according to the operation of biblical law. According to biblical law, the chief concern was restitution and a restoration as far as possible to one’s original state. Those who stole, for example, might be sold into temporary servitude to work in order to repay their debts, but the debt they owed was not to society but to those they stole from. Those who raped or murdered or kidnapped, because of the trauma and harm they inflicted on those who were created in the image and likeness of God, were to be put to death. Even those who engaged in the comparatively common act of seduction–come in our day and age at least–were to face stiff penalties for their behaviors including a heavy fine and a possible marriage for life that they could not escape via divorce. Yet once this debt was paid and once the person who had been wronged had been restored, there was to be no permanent loss of dignity or honor for those who had paid the price for their sins. Once there was repentance and restitution the debt was cleared and the former offender could return to their position as a member of society without having their wrong permanently held over their head. Part of God’s law in dealing with crime is making it possible for people to be cleansed from their sins and to be restored to the good graces of their neighbors.
And this is what I see fundamentally lacking in the various efforts to preserve law and order in contemporary society. We all blunder, some of us spectacularly so, and some of us are saved from involvement in criminal defense only by the graciousness of God, the mercy of other people, or entirely undeserved good fortune. One single mistake can ruin someone’s entire life, with the only chance of restoration being the unlikely and expensive remedy of a pardon from a governor or president. Yet the harshness of our law comes about because the state considers itself the victim of crime, rather than the defender of the (relatively) innocent against those who are hardened in evil. Few people, when it comes to questions of law, are concerned about the well-being of the victim. Those who desire to raise the age by which people can be tried as adults certainly are not concerned about the sort of wickedness that teenagers and even children commit, and those who seek to throw youthful criminals in jail are not reflective to the fact that for any young person to be sufficiently hardened to commit the crimes that would warrant being tried as an adult, such a child must have been deeply scarred and abused themselves in some fashion. But how many people have sympathy for those they view as evil, or have compassion as to how they were first wronged by someone else before lamentably harming others in turn? The age by which people are tried as an adult in our corrupt and unjust legal system is a far smaller issue than the fact that the system as a whole is deeply in need of being changed to reflect a godly view of crime and punishment, and a more widespread recognition of the fact that the only thing that saves most of us from imprisonment is the general inattention of authorities, something that some of us have learned to our great cost .
 See, for example:
 See, for example: