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Notable sentence for juveniles underscores "teachable moment"



Ill advised?


But meriting incarceration or some other criminal sentence focused foremost on punishment and societal retaliation rather than on education and rehabilitation?

No, decided a prosecutor in one Virginia county comprising a portion of the Washington, D.C., metro area. That government attorney, who had multiple sentencing options to consider from in her evaluation of a proper outcome for several juvenile boys who recently pleaded guilty to criminal conduct, opted for something different in response to what she termed "a teachable moment."

No one would argue that it was simply child's play -- innocent and uniformed behavior carried out by adolescents without any intent to do wrong -- when a group of five youthful offenders (all 16- or 17-year-old boys) defaced a school that was at one time attended by only black students. Their graffiti was graphic, including spray painted swastikas and the words "WHITE POWER."

The prosecutor duly noted, though, that three of the boys were minorities and that the words "BROWN POWER" were also painted. And none of the juveniles had a prior criminal record.

A recent article in the Washington Post notes that, after due reflection, the attorney decided that the acts "were more motivated by teenage naivete than by racial hatred."

And she thus came up with a somewhat novel sentence focused more on learning than on simple punishment.

To wit: The boys must read a number of books that will help them better understand and empathize with multiculturalism and appreciate why their actions could be construed as hate speech.

And they are tasked to write reports on those books, as well as write a paper on hate speech in America. They must additionally visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and listen to an interview given by one of the school's former students.

The prosecutor says that none of the juveniles seemed to really understand "the seriousness of what they had done." Given that, she concluded, the most appropriate sentence should properly stress education regarding race, discrimination and attendant factors rather than merely being a punitive response.

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