little criminals


Q: What lessons should we learn from this case?

Starr: For me what we're really talking about is that, somehow or another, we have to get beyond this area where we want to blame people for being who they are. For me, the thing, I guess, over all these years that has always really bothered me are people who are having children, who can't take care of them. They're either not ready for them, or when they're born, they can't deal with them. You asked earlier about victimization. Aren't you a victim if you're born to somebody who can't take care of you?

It just seems to me that until we start dealing with those issues on a really positive basis, we're going to have more and more of this type of thing. And yet, it's not like 100 years ago when people had lots of children because they used them on the farm. They don't do that anymore because they don't need the labor. But we continue to have all kinds of people who have no ability, emotionally or financially or psychologically to take care of their kids. And these kids grow up on their own.

And then we're surprised when at 14 or 15 they're holding people up and shooting people. My surprise, in a way sometimes, is that we don't have more of it. Because there are an awful lot of kids out there who get around all this stuff and survive. You can have two kids living side by side: one goes one direction, one goes the other. They both come from similar circumstances. What's the deal here? One's resilient and one isn't, or one gets hooked up with a mentor and one doesn't. Or one has a mother who holds him accountable, and they don't care about the other one. Or one of them gets a school teacher who has an impact on him and the other doesn't.

But how do we finally convince people that the best dollar we spend is early on? I mean, we know in kindergarten and first grade--you go to any school, and you ask the teacher, "Tell me the kids that are going to do really well in here." They can do it. "Tell me the kids that are going to do really poorly in here." They can tell you. So why don't we focus some resources on those kids who we know aren't going to do well as opposed to waiting until we get them into a system where now we're trying to reform them instead of trying to prevent what's going on. It doesn't make sense to me.

It's not always going to work, but I think we've shown that for every $1 you put into prevention, you'll probably save $4 later on. Prisons are very expensive. These other interventions are very expensive. So why aren't we doing that? What's it going to take for us to get to that point. Because we've got a lot of kids coming up who are in big, big trouble.

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