Rep. Barbieri: Juvenile justice bill will help children

This letter to the editor appeared in today's News Journal

Our juvenile justice system must not only hold youth accountable for their actions, but also protect children from unsafe environments and help them become productive members of their communities. Prosecuting very young children for minor offenses does not accomplish these goals. Children under the age of 10 have not developed the mental capacity to understand the consequences of their actions, and many react in response to underlying problems at home or in the community. Our job as a state should be to identify and address these problems, not send these children through the criminal justice system unnecessarily. Since 2009, 93 children between the ages of seven and nine have been arrested and prosecuted in Delaware. Most offenses were minor, and the vast majority of charges were dismissed or terminated in the child's favor. These cases cost valuable resources that could be better used to help these children.

House Bill 126 would address this problem by prohibiting criminal and juvenile delinquency prosecution of children under the age of 10. As an alternative, these children might instead be required to participate in programs addressing behavioral issues. This is already a mandate of the state: to provide services to any child believed to be abused, neglected, or in need of mental health treatment. Our children are the future of Delaware. They deserve every opportunity to fulfill their potential. By connecting these young offenders with the appropriate care, we can help them become citizens who will someday build better communities for their own children.

Rep. Michael A. Barbieri

18th District (Newark)