How Four Juveniles Got Different Punishments for Same Crime
It was the kind of reckless decision high-school boys sometimes make when left to their own devices. In May 2009, four teens entered an uninhabited house in a suburb of Tampa, Fla., and ransacked it. They overturned furniture, threw paint on the walls, smashed food jars on the floor, and stole game consoles, DVDs and a computer. Within weeks, they were arrested. All four boys faced the same charges: burglary and theft.
Two of the boys have left the episode far behind them. They were charged as juveniles and put on probation; they didn’t spend a day in prison. One — who lived down the street from the vandalized house and allegedly brought the group there — is white, the other Hispanic. The other two boys, however, are serving four-year sentences for the same crime. They were 16 and 17 when they were arrested, but were charged as adults. Neither had any priors. Both are Hispanic.
The case highlights what child-advocates say is an arbitrary, unfair, and often racist system — one in which prosecutors can decide whether to bring adult charges against a kid without a hearing or any oversight from a judge.