"In most of these cases the perpetrators are not acting with the intent of hurting the baby. Instead they are usually frustrated young parents who respond to a crying baby with 30 seconds of stupidity, because they weren't educated about the dangers of shaking a baby," Runyan said. "In my view, harsh prison sentences may not be the most appropriate response in this situation, and we need to seriously consider other ways of dealing with what is a significant public health problem."
The study's lead author is Heather T. Keenan, Ph.D., who was a graduate student at UNC and now is an associate professor at the University of Utah. Maryalice Nocera, a research nurse with the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center, is a co-author.
"It is difficult to know what the appropriate judicial response should be to these cases as the value of the child's lost life or abilities need to be recognized," Keenan said. "However, it is clear that the response should not be based on the defendants' race or ethnicity."
This study follows up on an earlier study by the same researchers, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2003. Their goal this time was to find out how the justice system treats suspected perpetrators of one specific form of child physical maltreatment, inflicted traumatic brain injury.
They found 75 substantiated cases of inflicted traumatic brain injury among children ranging from infants to 2-year-olds. Of these, criminal charges were filed in 54 cases. Forty-one of the defendants pleaded either guilty or no contest to the charges and 10 defendants went to jury trial. Three were found not guilty, leaving 48 defendants with criminal convictions. Of these, 30 (63 percent) were sentenced to time in prison.
Whether or not the child died was found to have an effect on the severity of charges that were filed; defendants faced more serious charges when the child died. H
|Contact: Patric Lane|
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill