Little is known about the circumstances of the arrest, the specifics of the allegations or the case’s disposition. The records of cases involving children are kept private. But in New York, the arrest reignited a discussion about how the justice system deals with so-called young offenders.
Judges, juvenile justice experts and lawyers who have handled such cases from both sides of the courtroom say arrests traumatize children, ensnare them in the legal system and increase their chance of recidivism. Arresting children so young, they say, ignores the science of brain development and in an attempt to seek justice often achieves the opposite result.
“What we know now is that the science doesn’t support prosecution of second graders,” said Dawne Mitchell, who leads the Legal Aid Society’s juvenile rights practice. Citing cognitive science that shows such young children lack true awareness of the consequences of their actions, and that emphasizes the psychological trauma of being cuffed and prosecuted, Mitchell is one of a growing number of experts across the country urging states to raise their age minimums.