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Media must stand by New Mexico children

One wonders what it is exactly that the Albuquerque Journal is attempting to accomplish with its official opinion articulating a “young-thug pipeline.”

To commence, the opinion offers a rebuttal of its own claims. That despite the large body of research that demonstrates that adolescents have inept impulse-control and decision-making skills, that what actually enables these “young thugs” is some sort of personal accountability problem, which the Journal falsely claims has been encouraged by laws and policies that, “literally promote illiteracy and driving while ditching/dropping out … .”

Instead of responsibly analyzing the reasons behind juvenile delinquency or discussing evidence-based solutions, the Journal skips facts and scruples, and offers other fuzzy and incoherent speculations – including a bizarre claim that New Mexico has not even taken basic steps to ensure that children can read.

Predictably, the Journal concludes by calling for enhanced criminal penalties, as always – this time even proposing an unconstitutional bill of attainder – meanwhile disregarding that every credible study shows that enhanced criminalization has no deterrent effect, a rule that is even more true when applied to juveniles.

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Children in the juvenile justice system comprise a principally vulnerable population: primarily impoverished and minority children, and children who have been in the protective services system due to abuse or neglect. Bearing in mind that children are more amenable to treatment and that juvenile delinquency differs in appreciable respects from adult crime, New Mexico has adopted well-conceived laws that seek to rehabilitate and function in the child’s best interest.

These laws include confidentiality, a prohibition of online record publication and record sealing, and they experienced broad, bipartisan support and were passed unanimously.

These policies protect children from what are known as collateral consequences, i.e. the unofficial civil ramifications that result from merely being charged. Collateral consequences include the ability to access federal student loans for college, acceptance into military or police forces, ability to secure gainful employment and access to housing.

Additionally, current ramifications for children in the media spotlight include access barriers to treatment and high school programs.

The Journal et al., who are parading children’s names and faces as teasers for the 10 o’clock news or printing them in the Sunday circular, are undermining these universally held objectives and confusing the public regarding the severity of the issue. These practices are belligerent, unfair and unethical.

Unless you are a criminal justice insider, you have little context from which to derive what actually happened in the real world for what has been charged, thanks to the smoke-and-mirrors practices of the District Attorney’s Office.

For example, I recently had a 12 year old charged with two counts of drug trafficking. He allegedly sold one marijuana joint for $5. Also this year, I represented a child who faced over eight years when he was charged – as an adult – with aggravated battery on a police officer with a deadly weapon after he accidentally ran over the toe of an officer’s boot with his ATV in the Rio Grande ditch bank.

The officer stated in a recording that he never felt any pain; was not injured; never thought he was injured; did not think the child did it on purpose; and did not think the child even knew he did it.

Neither of these children were wholly innocent in the strictest sense but, if they were your kids, you would want to rest assured that their pictures alongside the named charges, “two counts of drug trafficking” or “aggravated battery upon a police officer with a deadly weapon,” could not possibly appear on TV or in the Sunday paper so as to stigmatize the child and their family for time eternal.

The Journal’s lack of clarity in terms of understanding the causes of juvenile delinquency and its unethical, harmful treatment of the subject matter is alarming. Please, members of the media, refrain from sensationalizing our youth and do right by New Mexico’s children.

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