Thursday, August 11, 2016

Slender Man Case Moves Forward

Back in 2014, two twelve-year-old girls attempted to murder one of their classmates. The reason they gave for the attack was that they needed to do it in order to appease Slender Man, a popular fictional villain found in online horror stories. Slender Man is entirely made up; he's not even based on some pre-existing urban legend.

Both of the girls were found to suffer from mental illness, and the classmate survived and recovered from the attack. Nevertheless, the state of Wisconsin plans to charge the two girls as adults. Which, frankly, is pretty ridiculous, as this article from Rolling Stone explains.

In this case, the record suggests that, due to mental illness, the girls had significantly less control of their actions than the average preteen. Morgan Geyser, who wielded the knife, has since been diagnosed with early-onset schizophrenia. Most people with schizophrenia are not violent, but an undiagnosed Geyser believed she would get to go live at Slender Man's mansion if she killed her friend, and that he'd harm her family if she didn't go through with it.

Experts diagnosed her fellow plotter, Anissa Weier, with a delusional disorder and schizotypy, essentially "a diminished ability to determine what is real and what is not real." After the two stabbed their friend, they set off to find Slender Man in a forest 300 miles away – on foot. Mental health professionals testified that Geyser still believes Slender Man is real. But irrespective of these girls' mental illnesses, criminally prosecuting 12-year-olds as adults is unjustifiable.

The basic justifications for incarcerating criminals – rehabilitation, incapacitation, deterrence, and retribution – apply differently to juveniles. Most juvenile offenders don't need to be incapacitated because they grow out of their offending behaviors rather than becoming ongoing threats to public safety. Deterring someone who isn't in control of his or her actions or doesn’t recognize their consequences isn't really possible. And most importantly, you can't justify retribution against someone you've determined isn't culpable by virtue of their immaturity.

So the law generally envisions juvenile offenses being addressed with social services, mental health care and education, all aimed at rehabilitation. In the Eighties and Nineties, however, amid a rise in crime rates and junk-science-fueled hysteria over irredeemable young "superpredators," legislatures started passing laws aimed at punishing, rather than reforming, youth offenders.

Usually you only see kids this young tried as adults in particularly sensational murder trials. There's some logic to the idea that someone who ended a victim's life, an action that can never be taken back or made right, deserves more serious punishment than juvenile courts can provide.

Maybe I'm biased by the media coverage I see, but I have never come across a case where kids this young have been tried as adults for attempted murder or assault, and I certainly can't think of such a case in which the juveniles in question were so obviously mentally ill. Maybe it does happen and I just haven't heard about it, but if so, there's something very wrong with our justice system.

So I can't help but wonder if the notoriety of the case is that reason that the state is pushing for adult sentencing. The weird Slender Man aspects of the case have raised its profile substantially, which means this could unfortunately be happening for political reasons. That's always a problem with the criminal justice system, since every case should be evaluated on its own merits and should not be influenced by the publicity it receives.

I know that this is the real world and politically-motivated prosecutions happen all the time, but their frequency doesn't make them any less problematic. Twelve-year-olds who believe that they have to kill someone so that a fictional character won't come and murder them and their families, as the girls have testified, are clearly not in their right minds.

Apparently one of the issues raised is that if the girls are charged as juveniles, they will be released when they turn eighteen and there's no way to guarantee that they get the help they obviously need. But that's a problem that should be addressed by fixing the juvenile justice system as it applies to mentally ill offenders. Dumping them in an adult prison is clearly not the answer.

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble

No comments: