In 1997, sixth-grader Terrence McLaurine, 12, shot and killed Larry Huber, 40, during a drug deal. “You argue with yourself about what should be done,” Huber’s brother, Martha Fowler, now 66, tells The Tennessean. “We knew he didn’t need to be back on the street. But, at that time, I don’t think there were enough programs to help boys like him.” Years later, Tennessee wrestles with the same dilemma – how to protect society from children who kill while making sure they get the rehabilitation they need, and ensuring the victims’ families get justice.
Experts say the best rehabilitation comes in a juvenile detention center where impressionable children are counseled in a positive environment with one-on-one attention from adult role models. In adult prison, the emphasis is on punishment. Vocational and academic programs have been added, but not every young adult prisoner takes advantage of them. “They don’t do well in prison,” said William Bernet, professor of forensic psychiatry at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He said grouping teenagers with hardened convicts just doesn’t make sense. “They pick up more criminal habits. They identify with the criminal way of life.” Nationally, 10 percent of all murders are committed by juveniles, says the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. That’s about 1,043 murders a year.