The number of teens arrested for murder has tripled in the past five years. The question now is: Are they a problem for the prisons-or the psychiatrists?

At first they resist. “As the knife plunged into your abdomen, what did it feel like? Was the pain sharp or dull? How did the blood smell?”

It’s something they’ve pushed to the darkest recesses of their minds. Now, they are forced to remember their crime not as a mere recitation of the facts for cops and lawyers, but in dying color, with descriptions of sounds and smells and screams. This time, from the other end of the weapons. As their own victim.

“As you lay in the road, in that moment before your death, what were your thoughts about your mother, your wife, your son? About yourself and the future you no longer have?

“About your murder?” Another student is acting the part of the murderer, wielding an imaginary weapon. They step into other bodies, imagining their lives ebbing, dreams ending. The drama is intense, invariably bringing tears of rage, shame, guilt, anger.

Throughout the arrest, the trial, the sentencing, the teenagers have managed to avoid this-this relentless delving into what many would say they no longer have: hearts, souls, emotions. People in the juvenile justice system have seen it so many times: the brutality and sadism that are all the more shocking when found in people who are too young to shave or hold a driver’s license.

But here at Giddings State Home and School, a maximum restriction facility for juveniles convicted of violent crimes, avoidance is no longer possible. In the Capital Offender Program, now in its fourth year and one of the few of its kind in the United States, teenage killers are confronted with their offense, with the choices they made leading up to it-and with their victim’s very real agony-six months before they are scheduled to be released from the custody of the Texas Youth Commission (TYC).

Many feel that efforts like these are too little, too late, that teenagers charged with homicide should be tried as adults and given stiff prison sentences for the protection of society. After all, if someone has killed by age 13, what can the public expect when he is 23?

The public has the right to fear. While the adult murder rate is growing steadily, the teenage homicide rate is exploding. In Dallas, there were 10 juveniles arrested for murder in 1985; by 1990, that had more than tripled. “By the year 2000, the rate is likely to triple, or even quadruple [over 1990], ” says Charles Patrick Ewing, a forensic psychologist who has written a book called Kids Who Kill.


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