George Will’s April 24 column “‘Cruel and unusual’ punishment of teenagers” is correct in two important ways. To say the least, young people, who are the most likely to commit criminal acts of theft and violence statistically, are not at their most rational stage of development. Childhood has been left behind, but maturity with its tendency to have second thoughts is not entirely embraced.
Will’s other point refers to the 1958 U.S. Supreme Court admission that there are “evolving standards of decency” within any civilized society that should influence how an offender is treated. No penal code can ever be absolute and unchangeable. Otherwise, the way we think about punishment would belong to the unthinking brutalities inflicted upon offenders, as inscribed in the macabre detail of the world histories of crime and punishment.
I would go even further and insist that prison should only be about rehabilitation. Inmates of any age treated as detainees are to be made ready for a return to society. Proper recognition should be given to the unusual nature of most crimes, as they demonstrate a loss of emotional reality and moral perspective. These young offenders need to be given the chance to remake their lives as ordinary citizens, without prejudice.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.