According to Wyoming Kids Count, Wyoming has no separate juvenile justice system, so a juvenile can accumulate a criminal record in adult courts for minor offenses like smoking in school or skateboarding on a public sidewalk. The film features interviews with Wyoming lawmakers including former U.S. Senator, turned juvenile justice reform advocate, Alan Simpson. Simpson was briefly jailed when he was teenager for shooting mail boxes and punching a cop and seeks a return to policies that focus on rehabilitating kids like him.
Next to Wyoming, Colorado has one of the toughest juvenile trial and sentencing structures in the United States. While there is no formal juvenile justice system in Wyoming, most juvenile trials in Colorado are handled by District Courts and District Attorneys get to decide whether kids will be tried as juveniles or adults. In many cases, an adult trial means an adult sentence.
Reaction to your “Your Neighbor’s Child” is typical. One comment at the the Laramie Boomerang, read, ” Why do we not hold children and parents accountable. It is not societies fault but parents who think it ‘takes a village to raise a child’. It takes parents and if children are held accountable for actions at a young age we would see less problems. Just like the person who gets 7 DUI’s in 5 years. Prosecute them and punish them the first time and maybe they will think twice. ”
The problem is that when kids are punished for minor offenses they don’t learn “to think twice” about what they did. They learn to “think twice” about how they got caught. In other cases, kids get caught up in bad situations. A friend commits a serious crime like aggravated assault. Rather than turn on their friend, they try to help him or her and become a party to the crime.
The bible says, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” Whether you’re a Christian or not, that’s good advice. As a society we have a responsibility to educate both youth and parents. The fact is that the law entraps young people and rather than trying to sort out what happened, we just throw kids away. That isn’t right. People like Alan Simpson and the makers of “Your Neighbor’s Child” deserve a great deal of credit for working to make things better for children and their parents.