'Evolution of a Criminal' Conversation Focuses on the Criminal Justice System

Nov 19, 2014

Did you know that Michigan is one of only nine states that automatically prosecute 17-year-olds as adults? Or that Michigan can prosecute, convict and sentence a youth of any age as an adult?

Panelists (l-r) Carl Taylor, Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kristen Staley and Lois DeMott.
Credit Amanda Pinckney / WKAR-MSU

On November 13, WKAR Community Cinema guests discussed these facts and more after the short screening of the new documentary Evolution of a Criminal along with panelists MSU Professor Carl TaylorKristen Staley of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (MCCD)Jane Zehnder-Merrell of "Kids Count in Michigan" and Lois DeMott of the Family Participation Program.

Lois DeMott of the Family Participation Program
Credit Amanda Pinckney / WKAR-MSU

The film poses the question, how does a 16-year-old evolve into a bank robber? Filmmaker Darius Clark Monroe searches for the answers — about himself. Years after his release from prison, Monroe returns to his old neighborhood to speak with family and friends, along with classmates, teachers, law enforcement officials, and the innocent victims in the bank on the fateful day of the robbery.

Monroe's story is personal and unique.

"We can't take this documentary and generalize [that] this is how all situations go and how all families end up dealing with the system," said DeMott, who draws from her own experience with her son in the criminal justice system as well as understand the extent of its inadequacy.

Greta Trice
Credit Amanda Pinckney / WKAR-MSU

With a nearly full house, the panel and audience members also discussed that simply doing the time to pay the crime is not an accurate form of treatment of the mental state of health that ultimately led to the crime.

"We know that we need to do something different as far as treating our youth [and] that they really don't belong in the adult system," said DeMott.

Audience member Greta Trice, Executive Director of the Resolution Services Center of Central Michigan, shared a similar opinion and said, "You can treat the symptom but unless you treat the problem it's just going to turn into something else."

Rebecca Rafferty
Credit Amanda Pinckney / WKAR-MSU

"[Tonight] was really interesting. I wish we would could have watched the whole film," said Rebecca Rafferty, Michigan State University criminal justice doctoral student

Mid-Michigan will have a chance to watch the full program, Evolution of a Criminal, Monday, Jan. 12, at 10 p.m. on WKAR-HD.