Published on July 12, 2012
People love to classify and apply labels. It’s a natural human tendency. But when it comes to kids and the criminal justice system, how early is too early to label a child?
The New York Times Magazine recently grappled with this question. The article described a boy whose parents watched as their three-year-old began turning into a more violent and aggressive nine-year-old. The nine-year-old was subsequently given the label “psychotic.”
But critics worry that the boy and others like him could face a pre-determined life path, all because of a premature and potentially-problematic diagnosis. Will the boy grow into the label? Will he have less of a chance at outgrowing or changing his behavior?
The debate over whether an early psychological diagnosis can negatively affect a person’s life path is similar to one that plays out each day in the juvenile justice system. Children and teens convicted of crimes face the prospect of being unfairly labeled as an offender during a time period when many experts believe their brains – and their resulting actions – are still developing.
The risk one takes in being labeled so early is in how they overcome the label as they grow to be an adult. Kids who have been placed in juvenile detention centers are labeled both in the system and by peers as “delinquents” who have come from the system. They are clearly disadvantaged at an early age when it comes to colleges, jobs and other life activities.
Being an adolescent is difficult enough, but navigating that path while carrying the stigma of being a criminal or juvenile offender can be a significant challenge.
James E Crawford Jr. is a criminal defense attorney representing clients in all state and federal courts throughout Maryland.
He can be reached via E-Mail at: Justicejec@comcast.net
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