'Superpredators' Arrive

On Oct. 13, 1994, 5-year-old Eric Morse and his 8-year-old brother, Derrick, ran into two of the toughest bullies their South Side Chicago neighborhood had to offer. The intimidating boys lured the brothers to a vagant 14th-floor apartment. Twice, they dangled a terrified and wailing Eric--who had refused to steal candy for them-out the window. When Derrick tried to pull in his brother, the older bully bit his hand so hard he let go. Eric plunged to his death. Derrick ran downstairs, thinking he might catch his brother in time. It was a bloodcurdling crime at any age. But the killers, whose names have not been released by officials, were all of 10 and 11.

Morse's death horrified Chicago. While the killers couldn't be charged with murder, they were found guilty of delinquency. In past years that would have landed them in a comfortable treatment facility. But Morse's death led to a revolutionary change in how "predator" juveniles are housed in Illinois. A new law permits children as young as 10 to be sent to juvenile prison. Trouble is, Illinois has facilities only for teenagers. So where is the state supposed to put these two killers? A judge is scheduled to rule in the case next week. Around the country, other states are watching. They have their own predators to worry about.

It wouldn't be a problem if Illinois's special 30-bed "kiddie prison" weren't still under construction. That leaves a choice between conventional juvenile jails and the treatment centers. The latter have a relatively relaxed setting, with more counselors and fewer guards than prisons have. Children sleep in dorms, not cells. And treatment centers are made up of mostly nonviolent kids; most are guilty only of being abused or neglected. It's not unusual for the centers to have field trips to a museum or movie. The boys' lawyers are urging treatment centers for their clients. "Rather than seeing how to rehabilitate these children, the state is punting," complains Michelle Kaplan, who represents the older child. "Denying them treatment is ultimately going to hurt society because we all have to live with them when they get out at age 21."

The state's Department of Children and Family Services--official guardian for the boys--demands prison. DCFS is worried the boys can't be controlled. For the moment, they're being held at a Cook County juvenile jail, where they repeatedly fight with staff and residents. "There are some people who view these two boys as victims of society," says DCFS spokeswoman Martha Allen. "It's our view that the only victim in this case is dead."

Criminal-justice experts have predicted the arrival of the superpredators--a generation of teens so numerous and savage that they'll take violence to a new level. "It's 'Lord of the Flies' on a massive scale," says Cook County State's Attorney Jack O'Malley. "We've become a nation being terrorized by our children." O'Malley recently reorganized his juvenile division because of the growing number of very young offenders. Those states that fail to prepare for the superpredators, he says, will regret it. They can always wait until the 'kids get out on their 21st birthdays.