Trying kids as adults

Among the letters in this week’s issue is one from Diane Suzuki, titled “Juvenile justice,” expressing her concerns about Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey’s stated decision to try 17-year-old Greg Wright as an adult. We share her concerns.

Wright is the Oroville boy who allegedly carried a gun onto the Las Plumas High School campus Sept. 28, took 30 students and an adult hostage in the band room for 90 minutes and shot a couple of .22-caliber bullets into the ceiling. He reportedly was upset that his girlfriend had dumped him and sought revenge from his romantic rival.

We don’t want to diminish the seriousness of Wright’s alleged actions, nor the threat he posed to the young man he was after and the hostages he held. Nor are we privy to the information Ramsey cited about Wright’s prior juvenile record in Oklahoma, where he lived until recently. Still, we doubt that trying him as an adult is the better course.

What strikes us is how easily he was disarmed—by two fellow students, apparently—and how much his foolish actions were motivated by a recognizable, if uncontrolled, teenage emotion. This was no Columbine-style assault, but rather the behavior of an emotionally immature boy who needs help more than he needs to be locked away with serious adult felons.

As Ms. Suzuki points out, research has shown that trying juveniles as adults does nothing to lower juvenile crime rates and may actually result in higher rates of recidivism. The juvenile-justice system was established expressly because it was understood that children are not mature enough to fully understand the consequences of their actions.

Greg Wright seems to fit that description. Trying him as an adult would be punishment for punishment’s sake. Trying him as a juvenile would offer him a chance to grow up and make something of his life. We believe it’s the more humane course to take.