Ever heard of “affluenza?” Neither had we before yesterday. The Internet is abuzz and aghast that a judge let a 16 yr old off the hook after killing four people while driving drunk. A psychologist cited a condition termed affluenza as the main problem, which is basically that money and the accumulation of things rules all else and that doing the right thing is secondary. The result of his trial seemed to forward the notion of its existence.
The young man was charged with manslaughter and was facing up to a 20-yr sentence since it was only a juvenile court. Even with the maximum sentence he would have been eligible for parole within a couple of years, apparently.
As evidenced in the video below from CNN’s Anderson Cooper and his interview of Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter in the accident, the young man had previous incidents involving vehicles as well as substance abuse, and his family had intervened with money and privilege rather than discipline. Mr. Boyles acknowledged the implications of adolescence as well as the need for rehabilitation, but echoed the outcry for justice that so many others felt was needed, apparently except for the defendant, his family, their attorney and the judge.
So where does the responsibility actually rest? Unfortunately there are too many inconsistencies in our justice system. Power and wealth can apparently buy defense and result in lesser consequences for actions. The lesson here is also for families, as we have to set good examples for our children. If they see privilege a s a ticket to act recklessly, then what will stop them from doing it again in the future?
Finding some sort of balance between punishment and rehabilitation still eludes American justice, but the message goes out far beyond this and should speak to individuals and families throughout the country. When we do interventions on substance-abusing people, our biggest challenge is typically the families and their enabling. The case mentioned here is a tragic example of how that can be. The intervention winds up being as much for the person needing rehabilitation as for the family needing to change their ways to foster healthier behavior and actions.