Letter to the editor: Treat accused minor with care

An Open Letter to Addison County State’s Attorney Eva Vekos:

Ms. Vekos, I want to thank you for your decision to release the 14-year-old charged with shooting another child to his family while awaiting trial. As you so eloquently stated, it does not make sense to put a youth in a situation where he would be exposed to adult criminals or effectively be held in solitary confinement.

I hope your experience as a juvenile public defender will also inform your next steps, and that your office will drop the murder charges against this child and charge him as a youthful offender in juvenile court, Family Division.

As a teacher of middle school children and a clergy member in Addison County who has worked with families in crisis, I often coach parents to understand the way the teenage brain works. Science has confirmed what we have long known: Teenagers are not capable of fully developed cause-and-effect thinking or future planning. They are biologically driven to seek risk and the approval of peers, and these needs regularly override other motives. Over the course of adolescence they become gradually able to hold onto other perspectives and control their impulses. By 18, while they still lack experience, and may not make judgments an older adult would make, they do at least have the cognitive capacities to reason. A 14-year-old simply does not.

This tragic accident has ripped apart families and left a harm that can never be undone. Our focus now should be on helping the community heal and this child find a path toward integration and healthy social behaviors. None of this will be accomplished by being tried in adult court.

Finally, I hope that the Addison County State Attorney’s Office will consider carefully before it again charges a juvenile as an adult. Doing so is a national trend and represents an after-the-fact, punitive approach to dealing with our collective failure to provide children with the safe environment they need to grow into healthy adults.

In this case, the charging of a child as an adult also caused the boy’s name to be revealed to the public, opening him and his immigrant family to unnecessary scrutiny and potential harassment in a time of inflamed racial and religious rhetoric. This also negatively impacts public safety.

I hope that in Vermont we can continue to espouse the value of justice, tempered not just with mercy, but also a scientific, brain-based understanding of child development and the effects of trauma. Using what we know from neuroscience and psychology to inform our treatment of children will surely give us the best outcomes for a safer Vermont.

Rev. Abigail Diehl-Noble

Pastor, New Haven Congregational Church 

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