Any situation that involves holding juvenile suspects can be rife with controversy – at least depending on the amount of resources that the parents have to provide quality representation for those juveniles. In the instance of these two boys, whose parents are not at hand, though, the risk of any parental outrage bringing meaningful consequences to the situation is significantly lessened. The fact that the two boys already have juvenile records for robbery and assault increases the probability that they may have committed this crime, and so I chose Option #1. I initially challenged my partner about the way he handled the interview, but given the probable guilt (and the lack of their parents’ appearance in the situation) I accepted his tactics. On the basis of utilitarian ethics, this makes the best solution to the situation.
In general, utilitarianism consists of the “view that the morally right action is the action that produces the most good” (Driver 2009). It is also worth noting that the measurement of this good can take the form of increasing the happiness of the most people – and each person’s happiness counts the same. So the 14-year-old suspect’s happiness counts just as much as Bill Gates’ – which should take socioeconomics out of the debate.
Considering the suspects’ happiness, though, will come first in this analysis. Obviously, being arrested and denied bail is going to minimize their own happiness. On the other hand, it does not sound like they put a lot of effort into finding their own parents; their juvenile records indicate that they should be used to the process – and should know that their parents are entitled to be present for questioning. The fact that they do not insist on having their parents there could indicate guilt. Whether guilty or innocent, though, their happiness at going back to juvenile prison cannot be much more than nil.
This brings us, of course, to the happiness of others involved. The police officer who conducted the interview is clearly quite happy, because he has his case wrapped up neatly and can move on to the rest of his caseload. I did have some questions, particularly about procedure. Failure to videotape interrogations can lead to problems in court – because it can lead to abuse by overzealous detectives wanting to put another case to bed by using coercive techniques to force confessions. However, noting that the recidivism rate for juvenile offenders is fairly high (for example, in 2006, 55 percent of all juveniles released from custody in Florida, New York and Virginia were re-arrested within 12 months (Snyder and Sickmund 2006, 234)). The likelihood that taking these two kids off the street will reduce crime is high. Reducing that crime will increase the happiness of just about everyone, particularly those people who live in the boys’ neighborhood. Even though state and county governments are feeling a tightening of their budgetary strings, which means that diversified services for juvenile offenders are likely to be on many financial chopping blocks (Heller de Leon 2012), if the boys can be rehabilitated and motivated to pursue objectives that are not illegal, then the boys’ happiness – as well as that of their families and their social circle – will improve as well. Of course, if the boys are innocent, it is unlikely that rehabilitation will do much good, as they will be angry about their wrongful conviction. On the whole, however, locking these two boys up offers the most happiness to the most people. This is why so many consider the criminal justice system to be stacked against the innocent poor.
Driver, J. (2009). The history of utilitarianism. The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy Summer 2009 Edition, E. Zalta, ed. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/utilitarianism-history/
Heller de Leon, B. (2012). Misconceptions about high-risk youth offenders. Center on Juvenile &
Criminal Justice 10 May 2012. http://www.cjcj.org/post/juvenile/justice/daily/press/gets/it/wrong/707b/youth/offenders
Snyder, H. and Sickmund, M. (2006). Juvenile offenders and victims: 2006 national report. http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/nr2006/downloads/NR2006.pdf