Many schools in the U.S today still enforce the zero tolerance policy. That means that a student’s first offense against many school policies will get an absolute punishment. The same thing could even be said with the law, after all, should be no second chance when a murder or robbery have been committed? But what if the crime is committed by an adolescent? Should the crime still be held to the strict standard it’s supposed to be for an adult?
The documentary film, They Call Us Monsters, by Ben Lear, challenges the traditional idea that if a child commits an adult crime, they should get tried in adult court and get an adult punishment. The movie follows three real-life juveniles who have signed up for a screenwriting class while in a detention center. They committed high-level crimes such as attempted murder and drug trafficking as teenagers. One of them was in the process of getting out through court and was successful. He was arrested two months later for robberies and is now currently awaiting trial. Another inmate was also in court, challenging the law to get a reduced sentence. However, his lawyer failed and he got a sentence of over a hundred of years. Due to a recent law passed in California, he was qualified to get a reduced sentence to 15 years since he was an adolescent when the crime was committed.
The question of whether a child should be treated like an adult when committing an adult crime is a question that many lawmakers and legislators have tried to answer. This movie presents the realities as it is. It shows the side of the inmate that is not seen from behind the bars and in the courtroom.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about this world I’d stumbled into,” said Ben Lear about his film. “The narrow space between a lost childhood and a stolen adulthood where these kids managed to live, laugh and discover their potential.” The film presents the reasons to why many youth turn to crime; it’s because they came from poverty stricken neighborhoods where gangs provide shelter and a false sense of security to young teens that are growing up. The inmates in this film even wrote a movie that reflected their own experience. Many politicians have a tough on crime policy because many voters don’t like the idea of “soft on crime”, but when it comes to a child who yet to have a fully developed brain, is it still fair to punish them for life?