Table of Contents
Table of Contents——————————————————————2
Trends and Literature Review—————————————————5
Past Juvenile Cases——————————————————–9-10
A sociological view——————————————————-11-12
A psychological view—————————————————–12-14
Mary’s disordered personality——————————————-14-15
The purpose of this paper is to focus on “why do children kill”? Samenow (2004) states that delinquent youth come from all social classes and from all kinds of homes. The variation in their upbringing is enormous. Children differ from one another physically, in talents and capabilities, and in many aspects of life. This paper will examine the sociological and psychological theories as to why children resort to violent behaviors. Also knowing the history of the courts and examples of past juvenile cases will enlighten readers on the issues at hand.
Mary Bell lived in the town of Newcastle upon Tyne in England. In 1968, two little boys ages 3 and 4 were found strangled and their murders occurred 9 weeks apart. There was no apparent reason for the crimes. It took the police several months to find the killer and hold a trial. Mary Bell, age 10 and another girl age 13 was tried with her but acquitted. Mary Bell was tried as an adult, found guilty of double murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Mary Bell was demonized across the country by the English press as the ‘bad seed,’ inherently evil.”(Sereny 1998)
A major problem with youths in society today is that some youths resort to serious crimes. Why children kill presents a big question in society. Some psychologists say children who are passed around have a hard time developing a sense of identity or stability. In the case of Mary Flora Bell, Mary’s crime was appalling by any standard of morality one might use. So what should be done with children like Mary Bell? While not common, child murderers are not the isolated aberrations people might like to think they are. Recent school shootings in America are a witness to that.
This paper will focus on the scope, processes and policies in this case that are significant to children between the age of ten and thirteen. The trial of Regina v. Mary Flora Bell and Norma Joyce Bell uniquely highlighted the problems of doli incapax and of trying young children in adult courts but there was never any doubt that it would take place (Sereny 1998). The sociological theory in this case will explain crime in terms of social environment factors such as society, community, school, family and peer group. The psychological theories explore the individuals in the context of: 1) family influences and 2) individual influences. These theories help to explain how individuals respond to their social environment.
Trends and Literature
In North Carolina a juvenile refers to a person less than sixteen years of age. The juvenile court is the major device for dealing with young offenders. It has roots in the English Common Law, which distinguished between adult and young offenders, who could not sufficiently distinguish between right and wrong to be held responsible for their illegal actions. Even today, however, the definition of juvenile delinquency is tautological: the delinquent is one who has been adjudicated as such by a court of proper jurisdiction, and juvenile delinquency is any act, course of conduct, or situation which might be brought before a court and adjudicated as such (Tappan, Nicole 1962). Many juvenile cases are settled by the police without going to court, and others are handled by the court unofficially. Court procedures resemble regular criminal proceedings, but there are a number of important differences, some of which suggest constitutional questions. Guilt is not generally considered an issue; a greater effort is made to discover why the youth has come into the hands of the court, regardless of whether or not he is delinquent. In most juvenile court hearings, no counsel appears for the child, and case law holds that he is not entitled to counsel. In most states, the child cannot demand jury trial. Broadly, it can be said that due process is not strictly followed. Also, the validity of corrective measures can be questioned. The extent of juvenile delinquency and its recent growth suggest the desirability of a thorough and objective reconsideration of the means and the methods hitherto employed in dealing with young law violators (Tappan, Nicole 1962).
U.S. criminal court procedures were based on an accusatorial and adversarial model, in which charges are brought against the individual by the state and rebutted by the defendant’s lawyer. Person’s are tried in accordance with procedural rules and found guilty or innocent. Guilty persons are sentenced to terms of community service, probation, jail, or prison or a sentence can be conditionally set aside. The criminal courts are expected to ensure to defendants the basic protections set forth in the U.S. Constitution, including the right to an attorney, the right not to testify, the right to confront witnesses, and the right to a jury trial (Scheb & Scheb 2002).
Juvenile courts, in contrast, are civil courts, and do not follow criminal procedures. Juvenile courts operate as non-adversarial, fact-finding courts. Juvenile courts consider extralegal factors that may be linked with the defendants delinquency, especially family conditions, in deciding how to handle cases (Howell 2003). Because these courts are designed to recognize the special needs and immature status of youngsters, it emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment. Youngsters are adjudicated delinquent not found guilty or innocent. Dispositions of cases are made instead of sentences. Socially minded judges preside over juvenile courts, hearing and adjudicating cases not according to rigid rules of the law, but according to the interests of society, the interest of the child, and child development principles (Howell 2003).
Juvenile courts have no juries; instead, court staffs include sociologists, psychologists, social workers, and child-care specialists. Because juvenile courts are suppose to act in the best interest of the child, it has no need for the formulation of legal rules of defendant rights, due process, and constitutional safeguards that, presumably, marks the adult judicial process (Howell 2003). From the time juvenile courts were first established, it has recognized that children are developing differently from adults. Children are developing emotionally and cognitively. Children are impressionable and have different levels of understanding than adults. It has been understood that a separate court system is appropriate for children and adolescents because, by virtue of a child’s age and immaturity, children are not fully responsible for antisocial behavior and can if humanely treated in proper rehabilitation programs, become productive members of society (Howell 2003).
Historically, the juvenile courts have been challenged by a high number of child delinquents coming before them (Loeber, Farrington, Petechuk 2003). Juvenile justice programs have employed two major kinds of approaches to intervene early in the careers of juvenile offenders. The first is early intervention with child delinquents, and the second is intervention with young delinquents who have the potential to become serious and violent juvenile offenders (Howell 2003). A few juvenile justice programs have been developed for child delinquents. Program development has been limited because deinstitutionalization and diversion policies of the past 25 years have turned child delinquents away from juvenile courts. Now, the presumed greater prevalence of very young violent offenders has stimulated support for the development of programs for children who might fall into this group. Although such young offenders are in reality no more prevalent today than in the past, this development is good for the field and for society, because early intervention with child delinquents can make a significant contribution to reducing the future number of serious, violent, and chronic adolescent offenders (Howell 2003).
Delinquency prevention agencies commonly think of programs for children and adolescents age 6 through 17 as prevention programs rather than early intervention programs (Howell 2003). Most prevention programs are based in the community or in schools. Here are some prevention and intervention programs that are effective and successful:
1). Parent training is one way of reducing the onset of delinquent and violent childhood behavior.
2). Parents exposed to Multi-systemic Therapy (MST) controlled children’s behavior more effectively, maltreated children exhibited less passive noncompliance, and neglecting parents became more responsive to their children’s behavior Howell 2003).
3). Behavior management is another strategy for reducing behavior problems during the elementary period. Behavior management is the use of behavior methods that is used in school classrooms and on playgrounds. Also, promoting academic adjustment and school achievement is another effective approach to reducing risks in children ages 6-12.
4). Violence prevention curriculum is the best evidence regarding the effectiveness of a violence prevention curriculum in the classroom which comes from one designed for the use in elementary grades 2 and 3. The Second Step violence prevention curriculum uses thirty specific lessons to teach skills related to anger management, impulse control, and empathy.
5). Two community-based prevention program strategies have been shown to be particularly effective. The first is mentoring and the second is community-based gang prevention programming.
6). A variety of school based delinquency prevention programs have shown to be effective in preventing delinquency and violence among children and adolescent (Howell 2002).
Delinquency prevention is a form of positive youth development. The interventions that will have the greatest effects will likely be those that reduce the risk factors that put children in the most danger of developing delinquent or violent behavior and increase protection at the same time. The state of North Carolina is currently using the available knowledge about effective programs to improve existing ones. The North Carolina project entails the assessment of existing juvenile justice system programs against the knowledge base about effective programs, the identification of weak programs and the application of existing knowledge of best practices to improve current programs. This approach holds a great deal of promise for building a continuum of effective juvenile rehabilitation programs that can be linked with a system of graduated sanctions (Howell 2003).
In 1978 a fifteen year old boy name Willie Bosket was convicted of two counts of murder and one attempted murder. The number of young boys committing violent crimes like rape and murder has increased largely in the 1990s, even as the murder rate for adults has declined. Criminologists predict that this will only get worse. Some state legislatures are making the age in which children are eligible for waiver into adult courts increasingly lower. Adolescents in Florida are on death row. In New York, 85% of the young people released by the Division for Youth are re-arrested. Prison has come to represent a rite of passage for some groups. In 1976, New York passed the Juvenile Justice Reform Act, which created a new category of juvenile crime, the designated felony. This act allowed children as young as fourteen who committed violent acts to be given longer sentences than the traditional limit of eighteen months. Serving three to five years they could be sent to a training school. The court had to keep the protection of the community in mind but was no longer to act as a parent. (Ramsland 2007).
In 1993 two ten year old boys: Jon Cries and Robert Denies were charged with the abduction and murder of a two year old boy. Jon’s psychological profile revealed that Jon had sense of security in the family. Jon exhibited low self-esteem and seemed defensive if anyone suggested his family was not ideal. It was as if he was working hard to hide something. The doctor that examined Jon believed that there were no organic disabilities or brain damage, which caused Jon’s behavioral problems. The doctor concluded that he was fit to stand trial. Psychological reports assured that Jon did not suffer from any severe mental illnesses, including depression or hallucinations. He was anxious, fidgety, and temperamentally fragile. Jon could be easily distressed and was unable to discuss the murder. Robert’s psychological profile revealed that Robert was defensive about his mother’s drinking. He had a repetitive nightmare in which he was chasing someone, running into the street and then being struck by a car. In the end, the psychiatrist reported that Robert was of above average intelligence, and exhibited no sign of mental illness or depression, but that he was currently displaying symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Did the boys know the difference between right and wrong? This was an important issue for the prosecution. The Victorian concept of “doli incapax” was established to protect innocent (and ignorant) children from corporeal punishment. In an earlier era, wild street children were executed for their crimes. “Doli incapax” meant that children were incapable of wrongdoing because they cannot grasp the consequences of their actions. To this point, Jon and Robert’s teachers testified. Psychiatrists took the stand, believing both defendants knew the severity of their crime (Huff 2005).
The scope, processes and policies in this case that are significant would be that children between the age of ten and thirteen until the passage of the Law and Disorder Act in 1998, were presumed in law to be doli incapax, incapable of criminal intent, and this presumption had to be rebutted before a child could be convicted. The prosecution had to prove that the child not only had carried out the alleged acts but knew at the time that what she was doing was seriously wrong. The 1998 act has abolished even this safeguard and anyone ten or over is considered to have the same moral awareness of right and wrong as her elders. The trial of Regina v. Mary Flora Bell and Norma Joyce Bell uniquely highlighted the problems of doli incapax and of trying young children in adult courts but there was never any doubt that it would take place (Sereny 1998).
The presumption of doli incapax is recognition of the fundamental nature of childhood, that children are not naturally equipped with an ability to understand the wrongfulness of criminal acts but develop this gradually, at different and inconsistent rates. The presumption is flexible and practical. The assumption of absolute incapacity for children under ten is an expression of the conviction that they are not ever developed enough to be held criminally responsible. For children aged ten but not yet fourteen, it is acknowledged that some may be able to form a guilty mind. The presumption of incapacity can therefore be rebutted if there is proof to the contrary. This affords protection to those who are not developed enough to be criminally responsible while at the same time allowing the conviction of those who are able to understand the wrongfulness of what they have done (Huff 5005).
Theorists in delinquency causation have attempted to explain juvenile misbehavior in accordance with the theorist’s own fields of interest and specialization. For example, psychoanalysts have advanced explanations that are heavily weighed in favor of emotional problems, whereas phrenologists, who were most familiar with the physical makeup of the body, developed explanations based on physical factors. Treatment theories and strategies too have evolved according to the interest and specializations of those using them (Kratcoski 1996). Sociologists usually take a social engineering approach to delinquency prevention and treatment while psychologists treat the individual. In so many words sociologists attempt to determine the conditions of the social structure that breed delinquency, while psychologists emphasize the individual and interpersonal dynamics (Kratcoski 1996).
E.H. Sutherland, a sociologist who is still widely quoted after more than forty years, contended that people become criminals because of their close contact with others who are in crime. Sutherland’s differential association theory posits that criminality is contagious, much like a disease. People are thought to contract criminality through exposure, much as they pick up a case of measles (Samenow 1984). According to this theory, criminal behavior is learned through association with persons who are law violators, or through observing the mechanisms of criminal activity. This learning involves both internalization of attitudes that are favorable toward criminal behavior and specific techniques for performing criminal actions (Kratcoski 1996).
According to Sutherland, a person may have many associations, some of them having a pro-criminal behavior influence and others having essentially an anti- criminal behavior influence. A person may thus experience internal conflict in trying to decide which set of values, attitudes, and codes of behavior to accept and internalize (Samenow 1984). For example in the case of Mary Bell, Mary was drawn into the criminal lifestyle because of the exposure to neglect and abuse. Differential association theory sees the parent and peer role as crucial because it is from these groups that a person learns limitations and expectations for who their peers should be and what actions and attitudes will lead to negative ratifications. From differential association theory’s perspective the parent’s supervision of juveniles and discipline as well as the level of attachment to those in his close personal groups define various technical skills and definitions. If this connection is weak, these may provide an excess of attitudes that are favorable towards delinquency as well as allow for influential associations with delinquents as peers. These bad influences establish definitions and techniques supportive of breaking laws and other acts of delinquency. Sutherland would say that delinquent acts were seen as acceptable because those in their groups were engaging in them (Kratcoski 1996).
A great deal of the personality-development theory that is applied to the existence of juvenile delinquency is based on the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud (Davis, Palladino 2005). Central to psychoanalytic theory is the view that personality is fashioned progressively as the individual passes through various psychosexual stages. Freud’s definition defines the personality as having three structural components, the id, the ego, and the superego. The id comprises the psychic representatives of the drives, the ego consists of those functions which have to do with the individual’s relationship to his environment, and the superego comprises the moral precepts of our minds as well as our ideal aspirations. The psychoanalytic theory places great emphasis on early childhood as the critical period in personality formation, and defines various stages of psychological development that correspond to the child’s mastery of certain bodily functions and drives (Davis, Palladino 2005).
According to Freud, parents are viewed as crucial factors in the child’s personality formation, and conduct disorders and neuroses are regarded as reflections of the effects of inadequate parenting. Critical parent-child relationship deficiencies that may result in personality and conduct disorders, according to the psychoanalysts, are the absence of the mother or the rejection of the child during infancy and very early childhood, lack of affection and discipline by both parents during the first five years of life (Kratcoski 1996). Many psychologists, especially those influenced by the Freudian tradition, hold that children’s relationships especially with their mothers in their early years are extremely significant and serve as prototypes for their later relationships. Viewed from this perspective, the flavor, maturity, and stability of a person’s relationships derive from a child’s early emotional-social ties (Zanden 2007). This is present in the case of Mary Flora Bell. Mary’s mother tried to kill her on numerous attempts in as early as infancy. Mary also lacked her mother’s affection and love.To understand antisocial conduct, professionals in the mental health field are guided by the extensive literature on the psychopath. This has been misleading because the description of the psychopath reveals mainly the effect that the individual has on others and very little accurate information as to how the individuals mind works. The psychopath is characterized as lacking a sense of responsibility, lacking the capacity to profit from experience, and lacking a conscience; the individual is impulsive, emotionally immature, grandiose and self-centered, and unable to experience guilt or inform meaningful human relationships (Samenow 1984). Although diagnosticians may make distinctions between the psychopath and criminal, for all ostensible purposes, one differs hardly at all from the other. Clinical descriptions of the psychopath are incomplete and in some important ways erroneous. For example, to say that a psychopath or criminal is unable to profit from experience is misleading because there is no such incapacity. The individual learn from past, but learn what is interesting and not what society wants to be learned. To call a psychopath impulsive is to assert that self-control is being lacked, whereas the calculating mind is very much in control. Conscience is present and the criminal has moral values, but shuts it off long enough to do what the criminal wants (Samenow 1984).
The psychopathology theory fits into Mary’s disordered personality. Mary showed no remorse for her victims, nothing but satisfaction. In the events that Mary was sexually tortured, the rejection from her mother, and the feeling of being alone and unwanted may have contributed to Mary’s disordered personality. The poverty of affect and the inability to imagine how others think and feel also are the signs of a psychopath. This is why it is possible for a psychopath to inflict pain and engage in cruelty without appreciation for the victim’s suffering (Schmalleger 2003). These theories relate to the case at hand through the testimonies of the psychiatrist that testified at Mary’s trial. Mary showed the classic symptoms of psychopathology, in which Mary had a lack of feelings toward others. The abuse that Mary took from her mother, her genetic father being wild and repeating drug overdoses that physically damaged Mary all contributed to Mary’s sociological problems. Some medical experts do not believe that a sociopath can be cured, but are generally resistant to therapy (Sereny 1998). One could ask the question of “If criminals are not made, are criminals born?” The question of whether there is a bad seed or born criminal is unanswered for we just do not know enough about genetics.
The psychological and sociological theories used in the case would be the psychoanalytic, differential and psychopathology theory. The psychoanalytic theory places great emphasis on early childhood as the critical period in personality formation, and defines various stages of psychological development that correspond to the child’s mastery of certain bodily functions and drives. The parents are viewed as crucial factors in the child’s personality formation, and conduct disorders and neuroses are regarded as reflections of the effects of inadequate parenting. The psychoanalytic theory is divided into three parts: 1) the id which is the most basic part is functioned with the pleasure doctrine. This means that it inclines to be a little animalistic. The id can be contravening and irrational. 2) The ego tries to control the id. It works on the real life principal. It makes a person have rational and realistic thoughts while dealing with other people. 3) The superego is what’s right and wrong. It contains the goals and principles of society. The superego’s goal is to check the wish of the id and cause the ego to work towards moral objectives preferably than realistic ones (Davis, Palladino 2005).
Differential association also known as social learning theory explains deviance as a learned behavior, the quality of contact between the learner and the deviant role model, and the relationships between the learner and the deviant model. It does a great job of explaining how children grow up to become law-breakers or juvenile offenders, but it suffers from a paradox. According to this theory of crime and delinquency criminal behavior is learned through association with persons who are law violators, or through observing the mechanisms of criminal activity. This learning involves both internalization of attitudes that are favorable toward criminal behavior and specific techniques for performing criminal actions. This learning also involves how criminals commit criminal acts, how criminals learn attitudes, drives, motives, and rationalization. Differential association foretells that an individual will pick the criminal path when the weights of definition for law-breaking go beyond those for law-abiding (Kratcoski 1996).
Psychopath (also can be considered a sociopath), is a condition known by a lack of emotion or conscience, and poor impulse control or manipulative behaviors. Psychopaths are social predators who charm, manipulate and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret. Psychopathic tendencies can sometimes be recognized in childhood or early adolescence and, if recognized, are diagnosed as conduct disorder. Children showing strong psychopathic precursors often appear immune to punishment; nothing seems to modify their undesirable behavior. Consequently parents usually give up, and the behavior worsens (Kratcoski 1996).
The psychological and the sociological approach to this case could be one in many. There are many common factors that may lead seemingly stable people to commit violent crimes. Some experts say the breakdown of the family structure plays a heavy role, while others say it is a combination of abuses kids suffer at the hands of their parents. When parents are even in the picture, say still others, they are often void of any parental abilities, thereby leaving the youths to learn moral values of right and wrong for themselves. However, not every child who has had a lousy upbringing within a dysfunctional family ends up a serial killer, so there has to be more to the equation than just the home life situation. There is, say some psychologists, who suspect that biology plays yet another powerful role (Toufexis, 64).
Christian (1997) states that pathological development is the outcome of children who grow up around violence. A healthy development depends on an infant and toddlers needs of feeling safe and the development of trust. Outside of the home a child will have it hard if there is not a good relationship inside of the home. Violence hinders a child’s social skill that is needed to function as adults during school years. Cognitive functioning is harmed by a lack of safety. When a child’s ability to empathize is hindered, it is because their feelings have been repressed due to living in fear. When exposed to violence, some youths have a difficult time concentrating. In the lives of children who are abused, feelings of helplessness pervade. Some symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are due to constant stress in the environment. While a born psychopath may have neurological disorders that defy every treatment, it still seems to be the case that many criminals with certain psychopathic traits may be turned toward something pro-social with the right nurturing (Christian 1997). Nothing is solved when a child kills to solve a problem. Society needs to know whether children understand what they are doing is right or wrong, a child can still form intent to kill. When children are watching television and playing videogames, the child needs to be taught what it means to take the life of another person because children can kill without knowing that it’s final. Any person that has no emotion of empathy or value of one’s life needs to have early treatment and not be ignored.
Why do children kill? We may never know the answer to this question. Psychologist and sociologist continue to do research on why children commit such horrific crimes. Evidence has shown that kids who kill suffer from the domestic violence, child abuse, lower income levels and a decline in moral values (Kratcoski 1996). The above reasons combined with increasing high school dropout rate, drug use and easy access to guns make a fertile field for kids who kill. All crime, particularly when it involves violence, is shocking. Juvenile crime is especially shocking. The image of childhood as the age of innocence, which pervades our culture, means that most of us are unprepared for crime by kids.
The notion that misbehaving young people are ill and in need of diagnosis and treatment has been very popular in juvenile justice work. Sometimes termed the medical model such an approach presupposes that some problem within the individual rather than in the external environment is the cause of misbehaving, and that once this condition is uncovered, it can be treated in some manner to make the young person healthy again. Acts of torture, brutality, murder, sadistic rape, and arson may signal the presence of mental illness. A study by sorrels of juvenile murders led him to classify youths who kill into three personality types: the non-empathic, who have n o feelings of sympathy toward or identification with others; the pre-psychotic who are trapped in painful and conflict-ridden interpersonal situations, usually in their families, and see no possibility of escaping; and the neurotically fearful, who are so insecure that they overreact to threatening circumstances as though they were potentially lethal. The causes of mental illness in children are varied (Kratcoski 1996).
Child lawbreakers have always troubled American society, but the current fear of, and outrage over, juvenile crime is unprecedented. Rightly or wrongly, many Americans see a younger generation out of control, violent, predatory, and likely to get even more dangerous. Juvenile crime analyzes the facts and misconceptions behind this attitude. In recent years the nation has turned to harsh punishment as its primary response to juvenile crime. Today, the juvenile justice system is undergoing another shift, one whose goal is to balance the best interests of the child with the best interest of society.
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