Baby Kelci was crying. The one-year-old’s mom was out at a club late at night, and an eight-year-old boy was left in charge. According to police, the boy “got extremely agitated” that the baby would not stop crying, and he beat her to death.
The baby’s mother, Katerra Lewis, 26 and her roommate, a mother of five, were out for a night on the town. Police say Lewis left the baby under the supervision of her roommate’s young children—none older than eight.
When the women got home from clubbing around 2am, they failed to check on the children, according to the police. The next morning, Kelci was unresponsive. Her mother called the police at 10:30am, when it was too late. Police say that had paramedics called sooner, Kelci’s life might have been saved.
The mother, Ms. Lewis, has been charged with manslaughter (causing the death of another due to reckless behavior) and is out of jail on a $15,000 bond. Her lawyer says that she has “a different story about what transpired.”
The boy has been charged with murder (intentional killing) and is now in the custody of Alabama’s Department of Human Resources. That’s right, the little boy, eight years of age, is charged with a significantly more serious crime than the mother who left her baby in the supervision of a bunch of little kids.
The Jefferson County prosecutor has not yet announced whether the other mother will face any charges at all. Her other four children are also in state custody.
Jail as a child care strategy
America is the lone developed country that routinely charges children with crimes. Alabama has no minimum age for charging children, so the boy, left without adult supervision and clearly lacking the emotional skills to handle a crying baby, stands charged with murder. He will be tried in the Jefferson County Family Court. If convicted, he could be confined until he is 21. (He cannot be tried as an adult in Alabama unless he was at least 14 at the time of his crime.)
Prosecutors have defended charging the child on the ground that if they didn’t, he “won’t get any services by the state.” Otherwise he would be entirely outside the system.
In other words, we are a country that has nothing to offer an eight-year-old, who in his short life learned that beating is a response to a crying child (I wonder where he learned that?), unless we charge him with murder. No therapy, no social services, no intense supervision, nothing, unless we brand him a criminal before he reaches the fourth grade. That is our shameful lack of compassion toward American children, our utter unwillingness to provide for their needs outside the criminal justice system, which is the last place we should be sending troubled kids. It’s the same cold shoulder that shrugs at the fact that we have the second highest rate of child poverty in the developed world.
Eight-year-olds do not belong in our criminal justice system. Young children are not capable of forming criminal intent, just like they are not legally capable of entering into a contract, or getting a driver’s license, or signing a will, or literally anything else. An eight-year-old is many years away from being legally allowed to drink or vote or join the military or hold a job, because an eight-year-old has a brain that is still in very early stages of formation.
I am a foster mother. I understand troubled kids. They’re all different, yet they all need the same thing: the loving supervision of adults. He was abandoned by his father (apparently) and abandoned at least for that horrible night by his mother (allegedly). Instead of spending money processing him through our broken, punitive, racially-biased criminal justice system, let’s take one-tenth of that money and provide him with the stable, watchful home life that he and every child craves.
That we would charge a young child with this crime or any crime shows how appallingly Neanderthal our criminal justice system still is.