Despite success stories like Carvente’s, some officials and victims’ rights groups say offenders like him should be punished more severely, not less.
Last year, Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, blocked bipartisan legislation that would have prohibited states receiving federal money from jailing juveniles in adult prisons.
“If this grand experiment in criminal leniency goes awry, how many lives will be ruined?” Cotton asked, while opposing the bill in Congress. “How many dead? How much of the anti-crime progress of the last generation will be wiped away for the next?”
Cotton isn’t the only lawmaker who opposes changes. A measure to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Texas from 17 to 18 failed to pass last year, and legislation to improve education in Maryland’s juvenile system also failed.
And some victims’ rights advocates also warn against shifting away from punishing juvenile offenders.
William G. Otis, a former federal prosecutor and now a law professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., argues harsher justice—both at the juvenile and adult levels—is the best way to reduce crime.
Otis points to the case of Wendell Callahan. After being arrested in Ohio at 17, Callahan was sentenced to a long prison term for a drug conviction. But he gained early release after more than a decade in prison, and less than two years later, Callahan murdered his ex-girlfriend and her two young children. Otis says the case is proof that tough punishments are necessary.
“When people are incarcerated, they aren’t out in the street ransacking your home or slashing children to death,” he says.
But many states continue to head in the opposite direction, including Oregon, which now bases its juvenile justice approach on a model that emphasizes treatment, education, and rehabilitation.
Noah Schultz, the Portland teen arrested for assault, benefited from that approach. After his attorney arranged a plea deal, Schultz was moved out of an adult jail to a juvenile center, where he served more than seven years before his release in 2016. He earned two bachelor’s degrees while incarcerated and now works with at-risk kids.
“It was a struggle,” says Schultz, “but I was able to completely reinvent myself, and a lot of that is due to having the opportunity to grow while I was incarcerated.”