Commentary: Tough punishment creates respect between teens and law
By Ryan Yaoran Yu
People's Daily app


Hood River County Circuit Judge John A. Olson recently issued the largest fine in Oregon’s juvenile restitution case history when he ordered a teenager to pay nearly $37 million to cover the cost of a wildfire he started last year.

The 15-year-old defendant was ordered to pay to cover the costs of firefighting, repairs, and restoration to the gorge and damage to homes when he recklessly burned more than 48,000 acres of public and private property. He was also ordered to write more than 150 letters of apology to those affected by the fire and serve 1,920 hours of community service.

Some may find the amount of the fine absurd considering the age of the defendant – considering he has to pay the money back himself without help from his parents. However, this sort of strict stance on crime is a good lesson since it illustrates that crimes will not be forgiven just because they are committed by someone who is young and immature.

Some activists will call for forgiveness for this boy who caused a great deal of destruction, but those same people are also forgetting that this young man caused so much suffering by his actions.

His fine and punishment is compensation for the people who lost their homes in the fire; some of whom are dealing with homelessness and financial burdens associated with relocating to a new home. Furthermore, some of the people who lost their homes also lost beloved pets and others were reduced to camping in tents for months after the fire.

It is irresponsible to tell these victims to “get over it” because the criminal who ruined their lives is a teenager.

Society should be willing to show a certain level of sympathy to teens since they are, on average, impetuous, short-sighted, and susceptible to intimidation. However, sympathy and forgiveness should only apply to those who committed crimes without malicious motivations.

California has set the bar for punishing juvenile criminals, pushing punitive juvenile policies further than any other state.

Thanks to California’s Proposition 21, also known as the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act, the state secured a wide variety of provisions to allow prosecutors to decide if a youth can be tried in, or transferred to, adult court.

In the years since Proposition 21 was enacted, the number of youths who have been transferred to adult court through these provisions has increased substantially from 410 in 2003 to 769 in 2009. This represents an 88 percent increase.

One of most well-known examples is the case of the four Chinese teenagers in California’s San Gabriel Valley, who were accused of kidnapping and abusing another Chinese classmate in 2015. According to the testimony, the victim was attacked, stripped naked, slapped, and burned.

Zheng Lu, one of the attackers, was sentenced to three years in prison while the other three also received prison terms ranging from six to 13 years.

The court found that those four teens had carefully orchestrated their plan before they committed the crime. Their actions left many shocked at the obscene methods of torture they used against their victim.

The US has had 23 school shootings during the first half of 2018, many of which were perpetrated by teenagers.

Nikolas Cruz killed 17 and injured 50 others when he went on a shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February. He was mature enough to pass an FBI background check needed to purchase firearms to commit his crime, so it would stand to reason that he should be mature enough to stand trial as an adult.

Who can even say that Cruz and the countless other school shooters can be rehabilitated with just prison sentences?

Juvenile crimes are not just a troubling issue for the United States, they’re also a worldwide problem.

According to the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office in South Korea, the number of crimes committed by teens per 100,000 people rose 36.4 percent from 540.8 in 2006 to 737.4 in 2015. Violent crimes like murder, arson, robbery, and rape per 100,000 teenagers rose 71.3 percent, while the number of assaults increased 27.1 percent.

Some experts claim that the rise of juvenile crimes is due to influences from violent video games and movies. However, this cannot be substantiated and more researched is needed to find a link between media and violence.

Yet tough punishments, just like the one handed down by Judge Olsen, might be enough to discourage some juveniles before they become criminals and it might even help establish respect for the law in the world’s youth.