Dr Atkinson on James Bulger case: “under-12s can’t be criminals” …Say what now?


A Times Online article this morning talks about the new Children’s Commissioner’s view that children under the age of 12 should not be prosecuted for any crime.

Preposterous? Damn straight it is.

The Times’ interview with Dr Maggie Atkinson centres on the James Bulger/Jon Venables/Robert Thompson case.

There’s several conflicting points here:

Blood shouldn’t generally leave the body, it’s a primal knowledge. Blood is bad. Kids should know right from wrong.

However, kids are very unlikely to know right from wrong if they aren’t raised morally by parents.

But then again, in this case, the victim was kicked, beaten with an iron bar, bottom-half stripped, stoned with bricks and genitally mutilated. His body was then laid on a railway track, his head weighed down by rubble for a train to disguise what the 11-year-old murderers had done. His body was cut in half by a train.

If they didn’t know it was wrong, why try to disguise it?

Dr Atkins also believes that teenagers are too often vilified. “If you have to go all the way to giving out an antisocial behaviour order, you have failed, because you haven’t given positive activities to that person.”

‘Positive activities’?

It is still a tough call. Children don’t appreciate life as much, perhaps, as many adults do and there have been success stories of child rehabilitation following serious crimes (in this case bludgeoning an old lady to death). Is the ‘need’ for harsher sentences actually a need to satisfy society’s blood lust?

Conversely, if you don’t know right from wrong by age ten, will you ever? Even in an irresponsible household where children can watch any film, play any game, there is always the pervading understanding that murder, rape and torture are wrong.

So perhaps the parents should be held accountable and the children moved to foster care? The problem here is that there is a lot of negative stigma regarding foster care and that has to come from somewhere. (NB: the problems with children in the care of the social system is a whole other kettle of fish and too long for this post)

Lock them up and throw away the key?

No. What’s the point? Suffering? Not with colour TVs, playstations and duvets. Prison should be like the gaols of old: cold cells, thin blankets, tiny windows, suspension of state benefits. Although obviously, in the name of human rights, the odd run around the yard would be in order.

Prison overcrowding? Capital punishment for the guilty-without-doubt, un-rabilitatable, serial offenders of serious crimes such as rape, murder and torture. Frees up some space and some money that could go in to the rehabilitation of individuals who do have a shot at reform, like children.

…though perhaps not all children.

Some things, some acts, are beyond reform.

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  1. Very nice article.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and have thought about writing about it, though I don’t think I could put it as elegantly as you have here. Though I was only six at the time I remember this case very well. Its seems to have really resonated with people in the UK (especially in Merseyside). It is such a unique case that raises so many questions about rehabilitation and punishment.

    But if I am honest with myself I think I can say that when I was 12, heck, when I was eight I knew the difference between right and wrong and was clear on when I stepped over the line. I sometimes feel that adults really underestimate the intelligence of children, and I think you totally hit the nail on the head where you point out they knew they were committed a crime as they attempted to hide the body. That and the recent appalling act that was carried out in Edglington really highlight the capabilities of a “child”.

    My thoughts on the Venables case is that he was deeply psychotic individual and the state failed him and the public by not punishing or rehabilitating him adaquatly. Was eight years long enough for him? and for the mother of Jamie? I think not…

  2. Agreed, not long enough, but what can you do? Locking people up forever will be perhaps punishment enough, but [this is going to sound harsh] such a huge drain on the taxpayer. I don’t think anyone could condone capital punishment for children though, I certainly couldn’t, even for cases such as you mentioned. Plus, if rehab works for some then that’s great. The problem (I read somewhere) is that the over-worked probation/rehabilitation officers can’t tell which ex-con’s are going to reoffend. Messy situ with no clear answers:/:-

    Thanks for the comment btw! :):-

    • Mylifeisabattlefield
    • November 28th, 2013

    I work as a teacher and with kids below the age of 13; I have to admit that the kids of nowadays should in no case be considered as juvenile; I know a hell of a lot of ’em who are so foul, fucked up, deranged in their mind that ‘we’ fear of what they might do in the future; right in the country I’m from, the laws have been messed up with in such a way that those kids are – sine qua non – considered as ‘non guilty’ irrespective of what they might have done.
    The laws are lax, the kids are growing worse, the parents should never have been parents; at times, I feel that the world needs a depopulation.

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