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Arkansas Targets Young Criminals

September 17, 1998

ALEXANDER, Ark. (AP) _ A state panel created after five people were slain in a hail of bullets at a middle school is considering a proposal to imprison 10-year-old killers for up to 40 years.

Under the plan, juveniles convicted of the most serious crimes would be transferred to adult prisons. Children younger than 14 currently can’t be charged as adults and those serving juvenile terms are released when they turn 18.

The panel on juvenile justice was created to make recommendations to Gov. Mike Huckabee after two boys ambushed classmates and teachers March 24 at Westside Middle School. Four girls and a teacher were shot to death and 10 other people were wounded.

``Those are the kinds of cases where a prosecutor and the victims of those crimes deserve to have at least a chance to have that person get more than a juvenile sentence,″ said Brent Haltom, Lafayette County prosecutor.

The group met Wednesday at the Alexander Youth Services Center, where the boys, now 12 and 14, were sent when convicted of delinquency. They were sentenced to indefinite terms, which means they likely will be released when they turn 18.

Other states have looked at revising their juvenile justice laws following several school-related shootings across the nation in the past year.

Other panelists said children as young as 10 are not capable of forming the intent necessary to commit murder, as it is legally defined.

``We’re ... making a statement that a 10-year-old who can’t vote, who can’t drive a car, can’t get a tattoo, who can’t enter into a contract is all of a sudden ... dealt with as an adult,″ said Paul Kelly, a coordinator for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. ``That’s hypocritical and it goes against what we know about children.″

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