Juvenile law and the Bristol school arrests

BRISTOL, Conn. (WTNH) — Eight bomb threats in eight school days led to a meeting Thursday night in Bristol.

When police said the suspects arrested would be charged with felonies — and perhaps even terrorism charges — parents broke out in cheers and applause.

The fact that those suspects are a 13-year-old boy and two 10-year-old girls didn’t seem to elicit much sympathy. And after the Newtown school shooting massacre, who could blame them? Charge them and punish them as adults, some parents said.

But juvenile law in Connecticut doesn’t work that way.

“This is so classic of why we have a juvenile justice system,” said Abby Anderson, executive director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, which works to reduce the criminalization of children.

“It’s really important to understand what these kids need to get out of this system is the understanding of why it was wrong, why they’re not going to do it again,” Anderson said.

In Connecticut, you can’t charge anyone under 14 as an adult, no matter what the crime. Felony charges can stand, but even then the punishment, according to the state’s attorney who would prosecute the case, is focused on correction, not incarceration.

“The legislature has recognized that kids can do dumb things,” New Britain State’s Attorney Brian Preleski said. “The bomb threats must end but you have to realize, they’re 10.”

And, according to child psychologists, that means you also have to realize how capable any youngster that age can be, of showing very bad judgment.

“A 10-year-old doesn’t have any awareness of long-term consequences,” said Dr. Alice Forster of the Clifford Beers Clinic.

“They should be held responsible for their behavior,” Forster added. “They have to know the depth of the fear they caused to others, and restore it. What could they do to give back, and that’s really what you do to a kid who’s done something wrong.”

It’s a delicate balance, when a parent is faced with the the notion of terrible harm to their child, even via a hoax. The phrase “teachable moment” seems a little too mild. But when the juvenile legal system steps in, and emotions set aside, that’s essentially what this is.

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