I am grateful that the 17-year-old boy who was shot last year at Perry Hall High School is recovering, and the school community is doing its best to heal. And we can all agree that the defendant, Robert Gladden, Jr., must be held accountable for shooting and injuring a fellow student.
But, the 35-year prison sentence that a judge handed down to this 15-year-old in a case where there was no loss of life should give us all pause and remind us of the danger of prosecuting young people in adult courts.
We have to ask, what good will come from a sentence that consigns Gladden to an adult prison until he is 50 years old.
The judge in the case cited Gladden’s apparent lack of remorse. But news accounts suggest this is an immature 15-year-old from a troubled home, a youth with tremendous needs who seems unable to understand or express remorse for his actions.
Now, he is heading into Maryland’s adult prison system, where he is unlikely to get the appropriate help to address the issues that contributed to his criminal behavior.
Research has shown that prosecuting youth in the adult criminal justice system and sending them to prison—in an effort to reduce crime—tends to have the opposite effect. These young people become hardened by the experience, and are more likely to commit crimes after their release than young people who stay in the juvenile justice system where they can receive needed treatment and services. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged in four cases that young people are different from adults, are less culpable and therefore should be treated differently in the justice system.
An unthinking “lock ’em up” approach does not adequately serve either the youth involved in criminal cases or the larger society. Maryland decision makers should rethink the practice of prosecuting and sentencing youth as adults and appropriately deal with all criminal cases involving youth in the system created especially for them—the juvenile justice system.