What's More Important: Rehabilitation Or Retribution?

Illustration for article titled What's More Important: Rehabilitation Or Retribution?

Last year, 8 teenage boys in Australia raped a 17 year-old girl and videotaped the incident, distributing it in the community as Cunt: The Movie. The maximum penalty allowed under Australia law for their offense because of the age of the offenders was 3 years in a juvenile facility. Instead, the judge in the case ordered them all to participate in a rehabilitation program, sentenced 2 to probation and the other 6 to youth supervision. Feministe suggests a slightly harsher punishment. But, what should it be? Some random thoughts, and a poll, after the jump.


This summer, The New York Times ran a really long piece exploring the differences between juvenile sex offenders and adults. It cites research that shows the recidivism rate for juvenile sex offenders is about 10 percent, where as in adults it ranges (officially) from 25-50 percent depending on the seriousness of the offense. It also notes that recidivism is much less common in the youngest teenage offenders and more common in late teen offenders. But, I think it probably shocks no one to discover that treatment, particularly at this age, makes offenders less likely to re-offend.

So, was it the punishment too weak? How harsh should the judge have been with the boys? What they did was horrifying in its brutality and callousness, and they have caused the young woman they assaulted and tortured additional harm by distributing a video of themselves doing it. And it's easy to say lock them away, throw away the key, but juveniles are accorded special treatment under the law in many cases because of their inability to fully comprehend consequences or, in some cases, exercise appropriate impulse control. So what's the line? Their age? The crime? How do you decide?

These are the questions our elected representatives wrestle with every day that they're not naming post offices, and these are lives over which our (sometimes elected) judges sit in judgment on a daily basis. Today, consider this your turn.

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Boys walk free over DVD sex assault [Yahoo News]
Well, as long as you said you're sorry... [Feministe]
How Can You Distinguish a Budding Pedophile From a Kid With Real Boundary Problems? [NY Times]


Jenna Sauers

They're young. Rehabilitation works. And, to those that have asked, yes — the Australian state will give the victim counseling, too. (That falls under their state-funded health care system.)

Australia has different sentencing standards than the U.S. (which, might I remind everyone, is both the most prison-fond country in the world, and one of the most crime-plagued). Time served for murder in Australia averages something like 6 or 7 years. And when juveniles come into contact with the justice system, they are treated as such. Not like in the U.S. where 16- and 17-year-olds can end up on death row, presuming that they're black, of course.

As heartbreaking as this crime is, I see nothing to suggest that the sentences given — years of rehabilitation in secure juvenile facilities, followed by probation — is out-of-line with Australian standards. Australia has chosen not to go down the path of the U.S.-style prison-industrial complex, it's not the kind of place where 25 years is considered an appropriate sentence for armed robbery, for instance (although armed robbery is itself a less-common crime there because of their eminently sensible gun laws).

Despite its overall shorter sentences, and its preference for rehabilitation over outright punishment, Australia has significantly lower crime rates than the U.S. I don't think I'm alone in seeing a cause/effect here. Yes, part of me wants these boys to feel the pain they caused their victim, and to be thrown in an adult prison. But the more sensible part of me realises that they will reenter society sometime — and I'd rather that be after two years of intensive rehabilitation than after 25 years of prison with no thought given to trying to prevent them from re-offending.