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Notorious Central Park jogger case shows the flaws of charging teens as adults

THE GLOBE’S editorial articulated only some of the reasons for the false conviction of “the Central Park Five” (“In infamous NY case, lessons for cities, police, media today,” Dec. 28). The convicted youths were not only victims of terrible police work and overly aggressive prosecution. Responsibility for the injustice should also be extended to legislators who enabled criminal justice officials in the case of the Central Park Five, and in other cases, to prosecute juveniles as adults.

New York’s legislators passed a Draconian waiver law in 1978. They were not alone; in the ’80s and ’90s Massachusetts and other states also denied juveniles their former right to juvenile justice. Treating juveniles like adults was justified in simplistic terms: if juveniles are old enough to commit adult crimes, they should be old enough to serve adult time. Legislators neglected the fact that juveniles are generally not as capable as adults of making critical decisions — like whether to confess.

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Our society generally assumes adolescents are incapable of making a lot of critical decisions. It is for that reason that adolescents need the protection of their parents to act as their guardians — and that adolescents need to be protected against an adult criminal justice system with a legal system of juvenile justice.

Simon I. Singer

Professor, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice Northeastern University
Boston

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