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Does Sending Teen Rapists to Prison Make the Problem Worse?

Why rehab for juvenile offenders is crucial.

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How does this dismantle rape culture? How could it? Although punishment absolutely validates the victim's experience, and empowers other women to come forward, we must look beyond punishment to release, too. Sending teenaged rapists like Richmond and Mays to adult prison does not benefit women. In fact, it puts us at risk if, upon release, they reestablish their prison environment on the outside. Part of caring about victims is attempting to prevent future victimization, too. But I'm not convinced our justice system in its current form is equipped to do that for Richmond, Mays, or any juvenile offender. Prison only aggravates and entrenches rape culture.

So, instead of adult prison, Richmond and Mays are heading to the aforementioned juvenile facility. When juvenile programs are at their best, they're providing holistic services to all juvenile offenders. For what it's worth, the Division of Youth Services in Ohio does offer rehabilitative services tailored to juvenile sex offenders in their custody. DYS insists these services  have had a positive impact on statewide juvenile sex offense statistics. Rehabilitation for juvenile offenders can work. And it's not  rape apologia to suggest that the age of the offender matters when it comes to punishment. There's a reason why attorneys for juvenile defenders make a lot of the same arguments that attorneys for the developmentally disabled do with respect to cognitive function. Teenage brains just do not process action/consequence in the same way adult brains do. This doesn't give Richmond and Mays a free pass to do whatever they want. It simply acknowledges the very good science behind the idea that teenaged dingalings can be rehabilitated.

Think about it this way: what if there were roving bands of sentient knives that sometimes went around slicing people. Would we send them to a knife-sharpening factory as punishment? Would that protect our pepperonis? This is a very stupid metaphor for a very serious problem, but without rehab for juvenile offenders, we run the risk of turning teenaged sentient knives into adult sentient knives.

Who knows whether or not Richmond or Mays will be receptive to rehabilitation while in detention. Mays is a  noted dope who apparently has no functional understanding of what rape even is. It is highly problematic that the initial reaction of these two has been  overwhelmingly selfish and full of disregard as to the effect of their actions on their victim ("My life is over," said Richmond). Punishment must, of course, remain an integral part of any strategy to combat sexual assault in this country — but we need an age-appropriate rehabilitative and therapeutic component to detention also. The result, if we don't, is more victimization.