How NYC Case Led to Trying Juveniles as Adults

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Forty years ago this month in New York City, a 15-year-old boy shot and killed a stranger on the subway. Over the next two weeks, Willie Bosket went on a crime spree. He murdered a second man, shot another. And eventually, the police caught Bosket. Prosecutor Robert Silbering said, “I think that there are certain cases where, for the protection of society, an individual has to be warehoused. I thought he was one of those.” NPR member station WNYC reports on the life of Willie Bosket, who practically grew up in the juvenile justice system and whose crimes served as the catalyst for its transformation.

Willie was released from juvenile custody in September 1977 unchanged, perhaps even more violent. And just six months later, Willie and his cousin Herman Spates spent 10 days riding the trains, robbing people and spreading violence. Willie murdered two men – because of the laws at the time, he was tried in family court and could be sentenced only to a maximum of 5 1/2 years. The governor, Hugh Carey, called on the state legislature to change the juvenile justice laws in New York. Carey got his law, so kids as young as 13 can be tried in adult criminal court if they commit murder. Bosket remains in solitary confinement where he’s been for the past 29 years. Since the Juvenile Offender Act of 1978 was passed after publicity about his case, other states adopted similar legislation. Now, 100,000 kids each year under the age of 18 are tried in adult criminal court.

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