Because I write about drug policy, I encounter daily massive ignorance, complete stupidity and utter idiocy. But this piece by Ashleigh Banfield on the Daily Beast blows most of it out of the water on the dumb-o-meter.
Banfield wants harsh legal penalties applied "with zeal" to teenagers who send each other sexy pictures via cell phone or internet. Right now, such teens are already at risk of serious prison sentences plus a lifetime of being labeled a child pornographer and having to register as a sex offender because no one ever considered that such laws could apply to their "victims" if the "victim" takes her own photo and sends it to her boyfriend or a boy forwards a sexy pic.
So, the possibility of being lynched and the certainty of being ostracized by one's neighbors once you register with the cops as a maker of kiddie porn --as well as the prospect of being seen as the lowest of the low during a lengthy incarceration -- are already failing to deter teens.
How exactly would additional penalties, prosecution and enforcement help? Do we want to fill our crowded juvenile detention centers with kids whose only real offense is being impulsive or naïve? When these kids are placed in prison populations with violent offenders and are raped and assaulted, what exactly will be gained?
And when the teens who fall prey to these absurd laws are made to spend years away from their families, with poorer schooling, with kids who take drugs and make other poor choices as their only peers, we expect this to improve them, how?
Despite the fact that kids should know how permanent their digital actions are, they don't. Many can't be trusted to consider future consequences past a few days
So how, then, will making the consequences of a dumb choice even harsher prevent the impulsivity which is characteristic of adolescence and which, by definition, involves failing to consider consequences? This is like randomly poisoning kegs of beer in hopes of stopping teen drinking.
Banfield worries about a girl who killed herself after her sex pictures were forwarded around -- but does she think being labeled a sex offender for life couldn't make someone suicidal? She discusses how sexting might "ruin" someone's life, but prosecuting them for it wouldn't do this?
We know these kids are already failing to consider the potentially dire outcomes from these choices -- so making the consequences more dire by scapegoating a few unlucky kids will do what, Ashleigh?
Einstein once said that insanity is taking the same action and expecting different results. America's criminal justice policies reflect this insanity -- and Banfield's column crystallizes the complete bankruptcy of trying to use criminal law for a purpose to which it is utterly unsuited.
Teens are going to act impulsively -- if we want them to become healthy and productive adults, we need to protect them from the consequences of their immature actions, not criminalize them. Sending a few token kids to prison for lengthy terms -- and let's face it, the ones who go away aren't going to be rich and white with good attorneys -- isn't going to stop "sexting."
All it will do is feed our continually growing prison population and make a few cynical politicians and brainless journalists feel like they've "done something."
Follow Maia Szalavitz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/maiasz