South Carolina has the worst record in the nation for sentencing children to long, mandatory prison terms, a new study has concluded.
State laws make it too easy to try pre-adolescent children in adult courts, and harsh sentencing laws make it difficult for judges to spare "kid criminals" from long prison terms that rob them of a chance at productive lives, according the study by the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin.
The study points to the case of Christopher Pittman, who killed his grandparents with a shotgun in Chester County in 2001 when he was 12. A Charleston County jury heard the case in 2005 and found Pittman guilty of murder. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
The study, titled "From Time out to Hard Time," states that Pittman holds the national record for the longest sentence currently being served by someone convicted of a crime committed at the age of 12. He is one of two 12-year-olds tried on murder charges in South Carolina's adult courts in recent years, the study states.
South Carolina's laws would permit the transfer of even younger children to the adult criminal justice system, since there is no minimum age for transfer specified in the statute, the study states.
Michele Deitch, a professor and lead author of the report, called on lawmakers to stop this practice here and in other states that employ such measures. More than half of the states permit children under the age of 13 to be tried as adults.
"State policies allowing for the prosecution of children in adult court contradict the consensus of the most up-to-date scientific research. The adult criminal justice system is a poor and dangerous fit in every way for these young kids," Deitch said "Children should be handled in the juvenile justice system, where they can obtain the rehabilitative services and programs necessary to help them become productive adults."
Read more about this study and the state's response in Wednesday's editions of The Post and Courier.