Why, exactly, should we punish children who commit crimes more leniently than adults who commit the same offenses? Gideon Yaffe thinks it is because they cannot vote, and so the strength of their reasons to obey the law is weaker than if they could. They are thus less culpable when they disobey. This argument invites an obvious objection: why not simply enfranchise children, thereby granting them legal reasons that are the same strength as enfranchised adults, and so permitting similarly severe punishment? Yaffe answers this question by arguing that child enfranchisement would objectionably undermine the values of political equality and self-government. This article explores some serious doubts about these arguments. It closes by questioning Yaffe’s reliance on a retributivist theory of punishment, contending that, once we reject retributivism in favor of more humane and productive alternatives, the thesis that child criminals deserve a break—which Yaffe assumes to be undeniably correct—becomes less plausible.

This is published here.