Should kids be sentenced as adults?
BRECKENRIDGE – Duc was driving when one of his passengers fired a gun. No one was hurt, but Duc received 35 years in adult prison.Duc, a teenager involved with gang members that day, is suffering from tougher sentencing laws because, as the documentary “Juvies” asserts, the public is fed up with juvenile crime. Though he claims he wasn’t in a gang and didn’t show obvious signs such as tattoos, he received an extra 15 years in prison under a gang enhancement law.He writes poems when he’s “in the hole” about the two people who live within him. He questions if he’ll go mad. He cries as he talks about his father beating him. His father admits it.Duc is one of 12 teenagers facing the adult court system that the producers of “Juvies” randomly chose to interview at East Lake Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles, the largest juvie hall in the nation. The kids’ crimes range from robbery and assault to murder.More than 200,000 juveniles go through the adult court system annually. In the last decade, the number of kids tried as adults has tripled.The difference between being tried as a juvenile and being tried as an adult can be the difference between a few years in prison and a life sentence. All 50 states have made it easier to try kids as adults, according to the documentary.Adult prisons don’t offer the type of rehabilitation kids need. Statistics say more than half of them will be sexually assaulted, beaten or attacked in adult facilities, and the suicide rate for kids is eight times higher in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities.”If kids can get some kind of guidance and education and see there’s more to life, they can make a turnaround,” said Robert Wirtz, an ex-con who became a lawyer while he was incarcerated. “I believe in second chances.”Wirtz will be one of four experts on a discussion panel at 1 p.m. today at the Breckenridge Theatre after the screening of “Juvies.” He refers to himself as a teenager as a “throw-away kid,” who grew up in a nomadic, party, hippie atmosphere and says drinking and drug use led him to crime.During a long prison sentence in the 1980s, he studied and became a lawyer. Helping people gave him direction and purpose.”Juvies” asserts that kids reflect society’s loss of meaning and life purpose. It maintains that when kids receive proper intervention in juvenile centers and feel valued, they become more generous, intelligent and well-adjusted.”Kids aren’t mentally and emotionally fully developed, so they shouldn’t be in an adult system,” Wirtz said.”Juvies” cites research on the brain that shows the frontal lobe, responsible for planning, decision making and inhibition, is one of the last parts of the brain to develop, after age 16.Wirtz is working to pass a law to help kids sentenced to life without parole with Mary Ellen Johnson, executive director of Pendulum Foundation. The foundation advocates the reformation of sentences for children in adult prisons. They are drafting a bill that would allow kids who earn their GED, complete mental health and drug and alcohol classes and show a pattern of improvement for 10 years to become eligible for community placement.Johnson also will be on the panel, along with Linda Mitchell, a Denver businesswoman whose nephew received life without parole for a hit and run accident in 1991, and Doug Wilson, a public defender from Pueblo.”I think the topic is relevant to everybody – from Summit County to Denver to all over the nation – because this is happening to kids all over the place,” said Terese Keil, programming committee member of the Breckenridge Festival of Film.Every year, Keil chooses films that can benefit the community. Past topics have included wildfires and organ donation.Movie ScreeningScreening of “Juvies,” a documentary about teenagers going through the adult court system, followed by a panel discussion with a public defender, an ex-convict who became a lawyer, a woman whose nephew is being tried as an adult and the executive director of the Pendulum Foundation, which advocates for kids.- When: 1 p.m. today- Where: Breckenridge Theatre, 121 S. Ridge St., Breckenridge- For more information: http://www.breckfilmfest.com- Tickets: At the door or call (970) 547-3100Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or at email@example.com.
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