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Time To End Juvenile Life Without Parole Sentences

Time To End Juvenile Life Without Parole Sentences

Last week a critical House Judiciary sub-committee held hearings in support of ending the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  The proposed legislation, The Juvenile Justice Accountabilty and Improvement Act of 2009, would deny funding to states that refuse of offer a parole option to juvenile offenders and authorizes state grants to improve legal representation for youths charged with life sentences.

According to ACLU Legislative Counsel Jennifer Bellamy, the United States is “the only nation in the world that sentences children to life in prison without the possibility of parole.”  If the proposed legislation passes it would bring the United States in line with the rest of the world in maintaining a rehabiltative goal for juvenile offenders.  According to international watchdogs Human Rights Watch there are nearly 2500 offenders currently serving life without parole for offenses committed when they were juveniles.  Of those sentenced, about 59% were first-time offenders yet still received the maximum sentence of life without parole.  The racial disparities are staggaring, with black youth ten times more likely to receive a life without parole sentence than white youth.

As the stories from Florida and Pennsylvania illustrate, it is long past time for this kind of juvenile justice reform.  From a legal perspective there are just too many variables when dealing with juvenile offenders to guarantee an equal application of the sentences– a fact born out in the excellent work by the Equal Justice Initiative.  From a moral perspective our stand-alone status on this issue says more than I ever could.  

One of the most positive steps taken in this legislation is the requirement that states integrate an early-release program for juveniles already serving life sentences.  So, not only does this bill, if passed, prevent future life without parole sentences, it takes specific steps to remedy the wrong of those prior sentences.  It is an acknowledgement that noone’s fate should be sealed by a court at age fourteen.

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5 comments

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5:06AM PDT on Oct 6, 2009

If a sentence included eligibility for parole in say five years after reaching maturity it could be an opportunity for education, if the state is willing to spend money for the program and there ae people willing to take on the job of educating a child. We should keep in mind "eligibility for parole" means eligibility for a hearing. it might present a goal to work toward.

1:57PM PDT on Jun 21, 2009

Kids shouldn't be sent to jail for life without parole. They can't start their lives over and they lose years they can never get back.

6:10AM PDT on Jun 16, 2009

While it is true that in some cases, America is much harsher than in some other countries; there are some countries where maimings & torture occur daily of children - period. That being said, no child should ever be sentenced to life w/o the chance of parole period. Unless the crime is murder - and even then, we should look at the circumstances very closely - these kids should be given some kind of chance to get their lives back on track. In the FL case, the boy was black & mentally retarded, there was no DNA evidence & the kids lawyer was incompetent, did not give a good defense & was later disbarred - the PA case was just wrong on so many levels that it boggles the mind - judges receiving kickbacks, sentencing youth to a privately run facility for which they only received disbarment & 87 months in prison.
While it is true, Robert that some children are no longer taught to bear the responsibility for their decisions - we still need to remember that these are children. At 12 and 13, they don't think clearly. No matter what they do, they are not reasoning as an adult would. How many times has a child given you the answer "I don' know?" when asked why they did something? They really don't know & kids in today's society are not taught critical thinking skills anylonger. So, they choose to break in somewhere - when I was young, there were consequences for that; but most of the time, it was not throwing them in jail and throwing away the key! Pa

6:09AM PDT on Jun 16, 2009

II - Some people took an interest in them; talked to them; set them straight and they went on to become productive members of society. What might these kids have become? We don't know & we won't know. It is why I am against trying children as adults - no matter the crime - because kids are half baked! It is why juvinile records are sealed. If you are 25-30; yeah, you can say the kid made a life choice - but if they are 12-18 or 19 they are guilty of making a bad decision or a mistake and I am not saying they don't need to be held accountable; but sentencing them to life in prison w/o parole or executing them? Mark me down as a resounding NO.

2:39PM PDT on Jun 15, 2009

I agree to an extent. I appreciate the nature of the concern for the youth of america. Every adult at one time was one. The difference is every adult who has made it through childhood without committing a crime that carries a life sentance does not relate to this stance. Bad behavior has become acceptable in our society because youth is free to disrespect and disregard athority with little concequence. Parents are forced to raise families through reasoning with immature minds that are unable to comprehend the complexities associated with life and society.
what is to become of the seventeen year old who has his mind set that he is a grown man and as such is deservent of aquiring the riches of life through any means he chooses. Is there much more potential to rehabillitate a younger corupt mind than an adult? If so, where is that line drawn because as a citizen I have made many mistakes, have knowingly committed crimes, have been disrespectfull and have caused pain on other people. I did not see much error in my ways before the age of 25 or 26 but yet I have known that crime is punished and there are lines you do not cross. There is respect for every person because as an American, everyone is equal and deservant of whatever life they choose. I feel that if it was that easy to rehabilitate, there would be no need for jail.

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