I realize Jon Venables is a bit off topic from my usual blog fare; however, the case did involve the kidnap and murder of a child, so I don’t think it’s as tangential as, say, an entry about Wikipedia in different languages.
Anyway, I thought I’d post this book review I wrote a few days ago. The book is Children Who Kill: an examination of the treatment of juveniles who kill in different European countries, edited by Paul Cavadino.
This is a legal book written for Great Britain. It’s the sort of thing that is normally kept in law libraries. In other words, not for everyone. But if you’re interested in juvenile justice, you’ll find it fascinating. I sure did. I happened to order it through inter library loan just a few days before Jon Venables was recalled to prison. The book references the James Bulger murder several times.
The book is a collection of essays written by various people in the know (lawyers, judges, social workers, forensic psychiatrists, etc) about the juvenile justice systems in various European countries and also in Canada. I knew Europe was much more lenient on young killers than the United States, but I hadn’t realized just how much. In the Netherlands, for example, a person under 14 cannot be charged with a crime, and a person under 16 cannot serve more than a year in custody no matter what they’ve done, whereas the United States has in recent years sentenced children as young as eleven to life without parole.
The essays are quite self-critical; each author acknowledges their country’s system has problems. But it’s worth noting that, in terms of recidivism, any one of the European systems is much more effective than the American one. Europe focuses much more on rehabilitation and education than punishment, unlike the American system. The British system is also leaning that way.
My only criticism is I wish this book had more about Eastern European countries. Only one of them, Latvia, got an essay. All the others were from Western Europe. Also, it’s worth noting that this book was published in 1996, over ten years ago. I wonder if there have been any major changes in the laws since then.