Thwarted carjacking (Image: YouTube screen grab via News24)
Washington, DC now has a serious problem with carjacking, committed mainly by juveniles. “There have been 863 carjacking incidents in Washington, D.C., this year. That’s a 106 percent increase compared with last year and a 600 percent increase compared with 2019. Nearly three in four carjacking incidents in 2023 involved a firearm, and the majority of individuals arrested were juveniles,” reports the Free Beacon. WTOP reported last month that “there have been at least 113 arrests for carjackings so far this year — 65% of those arrested are juveniles.” Similarly, last year, Channel 9 reported that of the carjacking arrests in 2022, “two-thirds have been juveniles,” with the most common ages for carjacking being 15 or 16. Arrested carjackers were more likely to be age 13 or 14 than 18 or 19.
This happening because teenage carjackers know that even if they are caught, they will be treated very leniently. In 2021, two teenage girls aged 13 and 15 carjacked and killed an Uber Eats Driver in Washington, DC, a crime for which they received only juvenile detention, not prison. Juveniles often do only a short stint in juvenile detention for violence or serious crimes that would land an adult in prison for a substantial period of time.
16 and 17-year-olds can sometimes be prosecuted as adults in federal court for certain crimes, under Title 16, but younger offenders in Washington, DC can’t be. The U.S. Attorney for DC notes that “his office does not generally prosecute juveniles. ‘A majority of the individuals arrested for robberies and a super majority of the individuals arrested for carjackings are juveniles..In general, our office does not have a role in prosecuting juveniles for armed robberies, and consequently armed carjackings.’”
So most juvenile offenders are likely to face only a stint in juvenile detention, not time in prison. Juveniles are more likely to commit a crime if they know they won’t be imprisoned for it. “A 12-year-old responsible for emailing seven bomb threats to Maryland schools this month knew a state law would prevent authorities from bringing charges, police announced Wednesday,” reported NBC News last month. As a result, he went ahead and emailed the bomb threats. As NBC noted:
A police spokesperson confirmed the child knew no charges could be brought before speaking to detectives.
Detectives spoke with the suspect, who admitted emailing the threats to Montgomery Blair High School on Oct. 13, 16 and 17, as well as Monday and Tuesday, Jones said. The suspect also admitted being behind separate e-mailed bomb threats to Oak View Elementary School and Silver Spring International Middle School on Oct. 15.
The suspect was identified, Jones said, with assistance from the IT staff for the Montgomery County Public Schools.
“It is disheartening to accept that the individual responsible for disrupting the educational process and instilling fear in our community was well aware of the legal limitations surrounding their age,” Jones said. “They understood that they could not be charged under current Maryland statutes.”
As a teenager, the brother of a Liberty Unyielding blogger would “place crank calls to people to instill terror in them, telling the people he called that their relatives were gravely injured, or taunting them about the death of their loved ones. But he stopped doing this immediately when he turned 18, and would face serious consequences for such telephonic harassment.”
When states raise the age of responsibility for criminal acts, that increases the crime rate among juveniles, because they know that instead of going to jail for a substantial period of time, they get only a short stint in juvenile detention. As criminology professor Peter Moskos notes, “Recidivism among 16-year-olds went up” a lot when the age for being prosecuted in adult court was raised in New York. Restrictions on punishment of violent juveniles have resulted in out-of-control, dangerous juvenile jails where guards and inmates alike are attacked.
Yet soft-on-crime activists — often sentimental white people from privileged backgrounds — claim that the length of a prison sentence has no deterrent effect at all. One such activist claimed in the Washington Times that “longer sentences don’t deter crime; it’s the likelihood of getting caught that does. This is why we all slow down on the highway when we see a police car, even when we don’t know the fines for speeding.” Ironically, she made this claim in response to an op-ed by a Virginia lawyer who, as a young man, carefully planned a murder, but never carried it out, because he thought might get the death penalty (or at least a life sentence). The writer of the op-ed also knew what the penalties were for speeding, and as a young man, would drive up to 100 miles per hour in counties where speeding led to mere fines, while always driving less than 85 miles per hour in Virginia’s Fairfax County, where driving over 85 miles per hour commonly led to a stint in jail back then. For example, he would drive 100 miles per hour through Culpeper County, where the traffic court judge was known to be lenient, while driving much more slowly in Fairfax County, where some judges were known to impose a day in jail for every mile per hour over 85 miles per hour that you drove.
Ex-criminals themselves admit that incarceration deters crime, and that the harsher the punishment, the more it deters crime. They admit this in comments below news articles and in tweets. For example, in response to journalist Matthew Yglesias’s suggestion that “we should dramatically increase prison spending in order to make corrections more humane and professional,” a commenter noted that “My experience with jail at very young age was so unacceptably bad that it changed the course of my life. I do not know if my subjective experience is common but the nightmare conditions of jail has had a tremendous deterrent effect on me.“
Longer sentences keep dangerous people locked up so they can’t get out and harm law-abiding people. Studies of countries with very low incarceration rates have found that letting criminals out early increases the crime rate, and that higher levels of incarceration are a good investment. I committed by people who previously were convicted of a serious crime, but who are no longer in jail due to getting a lenient sentence for that earlier crime.
Longer sentences also deter people outside of prison from committing crimes in the first place. A National Bureau of Economic Research study discovered that longer sentences for second-time offenders and other repeat offenders contained in a 1982 California law deterred people from committing murder, robbery, and rape. A 2008 Santa Clara University study found that “a Three Strikes law” is “associated” with “significantly faster rates of decline in robbery, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft nationwide.