The sentence for the 12-year-old boy in Colorado who shot and killed his parents and tried to kill two of his younger siblings was handed down this week: He got a mere seven years in juvenile detention.
It's a light sentence, especially when you consider that had he been tried as an adult, he would have likely faced life in prison. The simple fact of the matter is -- a 13-year-old (he's since had a birthday) does not belong in prison. But can we flash-forward seven years and ponder the following scenario: What happens when this 20-year-old is released from juvenile detention? Sure, he'll have to serve a few years on parole; still, suddenly, Colorado sounds like a very scary place to be ...
No one is more unhappy about the sentence than the boy's family members, including his uncle who said, "My desire for a longer sentence was never about hatred or anger but out of a sense of justice." That's understandable ... sort of.
But here's the thing about this boy: Obviously, he's exhibited signs of mental illness. How else could you explain the fact that, as prosecutors described, he was playing with toy trucks and planes in the backyard minutes before he shot and killed his parents, then stabbed and shot his 9-year-old brother and injured his 5-year-old sister with a knife? Only someone deeply disturbed would inexplicably snap like that. And someone that young and that deeply disturbed obviously needs therapy and rehabilitation -- not a life prison sentence with adults.
Moreover, you can't help but wonder if this boy had been mistreated or even abused by his family members. When the press asked his own brother, Wally, 25, how he felt about the sentence, he said: "He's dead to me." That harsh response speaks volumes of the dynamics of this family. And, if his own family can't show him any compassion or hope for eventual forgiveness, there's little hope that he can ever get better -- which is a scary thought when he's released in seven years.
Does seven years in JUV sound like this boy is getting off too easy? Yes. But adult prison isn't appropriate in this case either. This is one instance that highlights how ineffective our justice system is in terms of rehabilitating those who truly need it.
Image via Leon Wilson/Flickr