On Christmas eve, I was surprised to receive a call from Paul Gingerich, Paul Henry’s dad. Paul and I have become close friends since I took on Paul Henry’s cause, but receiving a call on Christmas eve—a time that one normally sets aside for family—bowled me over. Paul told me that Paul Henry was doing well, but he had another message to share.
For some time I have adopted the view that sentences for kids must be age-appropriate—something the courts have failed to take into account. They are just now beginning to recognize the scientific fact that brain development in most young people is not complete until the early 20s. But sentencing does not reflect this understanding. We have young people who are serving prison terms of 40 to 99 years for the act of parricide.
I have believed for some time that any time served beyond the age of full brain development is gratuitous, excessive, and constitutes “cruel and unusual” punishment. But I didn’t have a good way to put this belief across.
Until the other night. Paul Gingerich has been thinking about this conundrum, as well.
I think that most people would agree that time is perceived differently by a child of 10 or 12 or 15 than an by adult of any age. For the child, a sentence of 25 or 40 years is much more severe than a sentence of the same term would be for an older person. It also signals the message that society is willing to throw that child away—that their life is “over” and that society is willing to define the value of a young person’s life by a single act rather than looking at the totality of that child’s life and what they can potentially achieve. In saying that the murder of a parent—even the worst parent that can be found—is worth 25, 40, or 99 years of punishment, we are saying that the act of parricide trumps everything else—even the potential of the child. Most people would also agree that potential will never be achieved with what prison has to teach.
Paul has a brilliant idea. That with kids, a prison term should never exceed 50% of the years a child has already lived. If a child is 10, the maximum term would be 5 years. If 12 years old, the maximum term would be 6 years. If a young person is 15, the maximum term would be 7½ years. If 18 years, the maximum term would be 9 years, and so on.
This would shift society’s emphasis from punishing the crime (which is most likely a situational aberration) to rehabilitating the youthful offender.
One thing I have always admired about Paul Gingerich is his belief that his goal was never to help Paul Henry escape the consequences of what he had done. Assisting in the murder of another human being is a very serious offense for which punishment is required. But how much punishment is required for a child to “learn his lesson”? At what point does punishment become unfair?
The “Gingerich Rule” provides an easy calculation that any judge, prosecutor, legislator, or advocate can understand.
Groove of the Day