After going on a stabbing rampage at his high school last week in Pennsylvania, officials deemed 16-year-old Alex Hribal’s actions so heinous that prosecutors argue the current juvenile justice system will not allow for a severe enough punishment.
Attorney Steve Colafella said that the older the juvenile, the easier it is for prosecutors to argue that their actions exhibit a “degree of criminal sophistication.” However, trying Hribal, or any juvenile for that matter, based on the “sophistication” of their crime sets a dangerous precedent for creating loopholes in our justice system.
Last week, Hribal entered his high school and injured 21 of his fellow students and a security guard. Several of these victims narrowly escaped death, and many are still undergoing multiple surgeries. Police and Hribal’s lawyers have yet to determine a motive for his actions, but let’s not be surprised when the psychiatric evaluation cites the words “mentally ill” and “emotionally disturbed.”
Hribal’s actions were horrific and gruesome, and his punishment should correlate to the severity of his crime. However, although the provisions under the juvenile justice system may not allow for a long enough jail sentence, he is still technically a minor, and the prosecutors cannot lose sight of that.
Hribal’s attorney is looking to get the case moved back down to the juvenile court, claiming that he would have a better chance of rehabilitation in the juvenile system than in an adult court. Pushing Hribal to adult court perpetuates a big problem in our justice system, which puts an emphasis on incarceration rather than rehabilitation.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statics, in 2009, more than 1,000 juveniles across six different states were put in adult prisons. Christian Fernandez, a 12-year-old who was charged as an adult for murdering his 2-year-old brother was among one of the more extreme cases. Regardless of how horrid the crimes that these juveniles committed are, being tried as a juvenile or an adult should not be left up to interpretation based on the criminal’s “mental age” or the nature of their behavior.
Although Hribal is only two years away from becoming considered an adult legally, there is a logical reason why juveniles and adults are placed into separate categories.
Hribal’s age should not excuse him from the crime he committed, but the fact that he is so young shows there is a lot more fundamentally wrong with him than just having a lot of pent-up animosity. Hribal does not deserve sympathy by any means, but rather, he deserves the professional attention for correction.
If the prosecutors want to uphold the integrity of our country’s justice system, they need to adhere to the concrete lines within it — even if diverging from it would make for a more sophisticated punishment.