In Jail With Adults, but He’s Only a Fifth Grader

A 90-year-old woman died in Pennsylvania last weekend after a 10-year-old boy named Tristen Kurilla allegedly punched her and pushed a cane against her throat. He was visiting his grandfather, who was the woman’s caretaker. 

Wayne County Police say Kurilla told them, “I killed that lady,” according to an affidavit. On Monday, they charged Kurilla with criminal homicide and aggravated assault. He is being held in the Wayne County Correctional Facility, an adult prison.

Whether Kurilla would be charged as a juvenile or not was never up for discussion. In Pennsylvania, in a case of first or second degree murder, the accused is automatically charged as an adult. But this process has some very vocal critics. When someone this young goes into the adult system, “nobody gains,” says Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Juvenile Law Center.

It’s possible that the 10-year-old could be released on bond or transferred to a juvenile facility, but on Friday the Scranton Times Tribune reported that the boy’s attorney said the family doesn’t want to take him out of the adult jail at this time. On Wednesday, Kurilla’s attorney said the boy was going to have a psychological evaluation on Thursday and that he would petition to have the case moved to juvenile court on Friday. 

While in prison, Kurilla is being held in a private area away from the other inmates, and he has been given coloring books, video games, and a television. According to the Times Tribune, Kurilla wrote notes to his family saying he loved them and that the food in the prison was good. He also wrote a note about “how to escape.”

No matter how severe the crime, children this young do not belong in the adult criminal justice system, says Schwartz.

“If the victim had lived, [Kurilla] would be barely old enough to enter the juvenile justice system,” which starts at 10 years old in Pennsylvania, he said. 

But because of the law there, he could be tried in a criminal justice system designed for defendents nearly twice his age. Schwartz points to three other cases in which children under the age of 12 have been charged as adults because of Pennsylvania law.

“Kids [Kurilla’s] age are incredibly unlikely to have capacities required to be a trial defendant in adult system,” he said. He believes that Kurilla is too young to be developmentally competent to stand trial. 

The fifth grader should be held accountable, Schwartz said, but in a way that’s age appropriate. Treating him like an adult doesn’t make the public safer, and it “reduces the chance he can be turned around.”

Related stories on TakePart:

The Unusual Way Juvenile Offenders Can Get Rid of Their Criminal Record

How Skipping School Could Land Kids in Jail

Life Without Parole: A Juvenile Injustice System (Infographic)

Original article from TakePart