“The punishment should be related to the crime”

Maxim: Young criminals should be treated like adults

26-11-2009

Last week, a 14-year-old Dutch boy was murdered in a small village in the Netherlands called Urk. Three other boys, the oldest being 15, are suspects. What should the judge do if they are proven guilty? Treat them as adults and send them to prison for a very long time, given the severity of the crime? Or stick to the law concerning minors?

“Children who commit a crime should be treated like children – in other words, according to juvenile law. Otherwise, why do we even have the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child?” says Gerard de Jonge, professor of Detention Law. “Saying that this 15-year-old boy, who is still a suspect, has to be punished like an adult is a very populistic and overly simplistic reaction by right-wing politicians. They just want to score with the public with these kinds of comments. I saw some items on national television and the residents of Urk, mostly Protestants, didn’t seem to have these kinds of ideas at all.” And further: “We mustn’t overturn our laws just because of this incident – of course it was an awful incident, but still a very rare one. If the 15-year-old boy is convicted, with the emphasis on if, he could be imprisoned for twelve months and, depending on his mental state, maybe sent to a juvenile detention centre for a maximum of six years. And seven years in prison is a very long time for a child.”

“It’s a difficult topic for a non-law student,” says Gaby Jeukens, a fourth-year student of International Business. “You can argue that the law concerning minors is a matter of principle. Then you have to stick to that law. I’m more pragmatic. I think that the punishment should be related to the crime. If we’re talking about murder, then we should lock up the murderer for several years, regardless of age.” If the criminal is still very young – “a child of eight years, maybe a very extreme example” – she thinks a development programme should be part of the punishment.

“You should always search for a punishment that prevents people – children and adults – from recidivism”, reacts Annechien Deelman, project manager at Mundo and mother to a 13-year-old son. “Some will be helped by the juvenile law, others not. The judge should search for a fruitful solution. Locking people up is not always the best solution.”

Law students Ruben Vaessen and Sabien Bähler, who work for the Maastricht Student Law Office, agree with this last comment. “You have to try to re-educate people.” According to Vaessen the law should be maintained as it stands; that is, with a distinction between adults and children. Bähler: “What if you decide to punish this 15-year-old boy not by juvenile law? Suppose next time a child of 13 or 14 years commits a severe crime – should he also be treated as an adult? Where do you draw a line?”

 

Wendy Degens, Riki Janssen

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