the gingerich rule


On Christmas eve, I was surprised to receive a call from Paul Gingerich, Paul Henry’s dad. Paul and I have become close friends since I took on Paul Henry’s cause, but receiving a call on Christmas eve—a time that one normally sets aside for family—bowled me over. Paul told me that Paul Henry was doing well, but he had another message to share.

For some time I have adopted the view that sentences for kids must be age-appropriate—something the courts have failed to take into account. They are just now beginning to recognize the scientific fact that brain development in most young people is not complete until the early 20s. But sentencing does not reflect this understanding. We have young people who are serving prison terms of 40 to 99 years for the act of parricide.

I have believed for some time that any time served beyond the age of full brain development is gratuitous, excessive, and constitutes “cruel and unusual” punishment. But I didn’t have a good way to put this belief across.

Until the other night. Paul Gingerich has been thinking about this conundrum, as well.

I think that most people would agree that time is perceived differently by a child of 10 or 12 or 15 than an by adult of any age. For the child, a sentence of 25 or 40 years is much more severe than a sentence of the same term would be for an older person. It also signals the message that society is willing to throw that child away—that their life is “over” and that society is willing to define the value of a young person’s life by a single act rather than looking at the totality of that child’s life and what they can potentially achieve. In saying that the murder of a parent—even the worst parent that can be found—is worth 25, 40, or 99 years of punishment, we are saying that the act of parricide trumps everything else—even the potential of the child. Most people would also agree that potential will never be achieved with what prison has to teach.

Paul has a brilliant idea. That with kids, a prison term should never exceed 50% of the years a child has already lived. If a child is 10, the maximum term would be 5 years. If 12 years old, the maximum term would be 6 years. If a young person is 15, the maximum term would be 7½ years. If 18 years, the maximum term would be 9 years, and so on.

This would shift society’s emphasis from punishing the crime (which is most likely a situational aberration) to rehabilitating the youthful offender.

One thing I have always admired about Paul Gingerich is his belief that his goal was never to help Paul Henry escape the consequences of what he had done. Assisting in the murder of another human being is a very serious offense for which punishment is required. But how much punishment is required for a child to “learn his lesson”? At what point does punishment become unfair?

The “Gingerich Rule” provides an easy calculation that any judge, prosecutor, legislator, or advocate can understand.


Groove of the Day

Listen to The Trews performing “What’s Fair is Fair”


5 Responses to “the gingerich rule”

  1. 1 Allan Yates
    December 26, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    “At what point does punishment become unfair?” – I don’t look at it as an issue of fairness. We punish our children, I have two kids, to drive home the point that a particular behaviour was unacceptable in the society in which we live. I believe one of the key issues with juvenile sentencing, is at what point does the imposed punishment become counterproductive.

  2. 2 Ben
    December 26, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    Well its all relative Dan, time is, to what has been experienced. One year to a 5 year old is a whole 5th of their entire life and everything they have taken in,- so it is perceived as a very large chunk of time. One year to a 60 year old is only one 60th of what they have experienced so is perceived as quite minute. Time flies faster the older we get !
    I don’t suppose we could trouble you for a general update on Paul Henry and how he’s going ?

  3. 3 Cane
    December 26, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    First of all, I so wish for Paul Henry to have strength to keep fighting.
    As for a punishment, put a 10-year old into a prison for 5 years and you’re likely to create a monster. There can be no normal development inside a prison. They have military rules that not even all soldiers can endure. Like demanding that every child be a Spartan. Endure everything or die. As you say, a child has not completed its development. So we should care about environments they grow up in. In that retrospect, no child should ever end up in a prison, no matter the crime.

    But, we should not even begin to think about just punishment until much thought and care is given into prevention of kids becoming offenders. Why do they do it and how to prevent it. Certainly not by threatening with life in prison. And that’s what is being done to kids. Like cancelling schools and then demanding kids to have skills and knowledge of a university graduate. Impossible. With absolutely anything, the “middle layer” is always the most important. If middle-class does not outnumber either the rich or the poor, the society will crumble. Child care is that “middle layer” that is being systematically destroyed, on purpose. Instead of threatening kids to behave, they should threaten parents to care. And cherish. Kids should be able to talk freely about their parents, needs and problems.If a child reports being abused by parents, pretty much nothing will happen. But if a parent reports a child having stolen 10 dollars, the child is public enemy no 1 and done for. That needs to change. The middle layer in the story of children must be rebuilt and made the most powerful. Then you’ll have far less offenders to begin with.

  4. 4 Frank Manning
    December 27, 2014 at 12:02 am

    Paul’s idea makes a lot of sense. I would invite him to contact me about getting this idea brought to the attention of state legislators for consideration and possible implementation.

    I’m wondering, though, what both of you mean by a “prison term”. I have to agree with Cane, above, “no child should ever end up in a prison, no matter the crime.” So do you mean serving time in adult prison or in a juvenile facility? That makes a whole universe of difference. The kids who are the “residents” of the reform school where I volunteer say living there is “like summer camp with locks.” It is not a harsh place, and its campus is deceptively attractive. Our juvenile facility for older boys is more prison-like, probably much like the facility where Paul Henry is incarcerated. But neither place compares to that cellblock at Wabash Prison where Colt Lundy and those other kids were incarcerated in Young Kids, Hard Time. That is truly hard time, and no juvenile should ever be subjected to that. Here in Washington State we expressly forbid locking up kids in adult facilities. And that’s how it should be everywhere.

  5. December 27, 2014 at 4:34 am

    I absolutely agree with the idea that one should never send a child or a youth in prison, at least not in establishment like the “Juvenile Wing” at Wabash Valley. At worst, in prison-like establishment like Pendleton Juvenile for the most criminal of them, Closed/Semi-open Educational Facilities like Reform Schools for less serious offenders. And only if no other possibility exists to deal with these juveniles in trouble and if they are sufficiently mature to learn the lesson – not like 10 or 12 year old children.

    Giving to a youth a chance to see the terms of its sentence reviewed after some years or at his majority, with a real possibility to elude to adult prison time, like Indiana’s “Paul’s law” allows judges to do so, represents also an huge improvement and should be included in the laws of other States, less advanced on this path. It seems to me equally important that fixed a calculation rule that determines the duration of the sentence imposed. Because the bulk is perhaps not the length of the sentence but the time really to be served usefully and the fact that this time is spent in an institution who truly works on the rehabilitation and not on the punishment of the youth. And this time differs from one case to another, each person is different from another and needs are not the same And this time differs from one case to another, each person is different from another and needs are not the same.

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