A recent case out of the juvenile justice system in North Carolina is shocking people into a discussion of where this system is going and what it’s doing to children as young as six years old. One such child was charged with “injury to real property” and hauled before a judge because he picked a tulip out of someone’s yard while waiting at a school bus stop.
A recent opinion piece highlighting this case while arguing against putting young children through the system was featured in a popular tweet.
“The 6-year-old dangled his legs above the floor as he sat at the table with his defense attorney, before a North Carolina judge,” wrote Virginia Bridges.
“He was accused of picking a tulip from a yard at his bus stop, his attorney Julie Boyer said, and he was on trial in juvenile court for injury to real property.”
Thankfully, the judge quickly dismissed the case. However, advocates for children in the justice system say that by the time a little kid has seen a judge, the damage has already been done. Not only will the charge remain on the child’s record, being labeled as a criminal has a lasting impact on kids too young to understand why they’re being punished for picking a flower.
“A 6-year-old cannot comprehend what is taking place in court, but probably will never forget being labeled a delinquent,” said district attorney for Durham County Satana Deberry.
Of the 20 states that set a specified minimum age at which kids can be put through the juvenile justice system, North Carolina has the lowest at age six. But according to Bridges, children don’t have the mental capacity necessary to understand the complexities of the system until much older than that — “even at 10, 11 and some 14-year-olds.”
“Should a child that believes in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy be making life-altering decisions?” posed New Hanover County Chief District Court Judge Jay Corpening.
There are also stark racial disparities plaguing every state’s juvenile justice system, with white children enjoying a much higher likelihood of being turned over to parents outside of the system when they misbehave or make mistakes.