Thursday, October 18, 2007

Teenagers & Life

In December the United Nations took up a resolution calling for the abolition of life in prison without the possibility of parole for children and young teenagers. The vote was 185 to 1, with the United States the lone dissenter.

This article was featured in yesterdays New York Times and I found it quite thought provoking. Let me start off by saying, as someone who has taught "at risk" teens I know that there are those who can be worked with and turned around. Now, none of my kids had ever committed a heinous crime, so I can not speak to that sort of mental state, but I think if you catch them young enough that maybe they can be helped as opposed to sitting in prison for the rest of their life from the age of 13. Children can learn and are malleable.

According to the article there are currently 73 children serving sentences right now for crimes committed as children.

On October 17th, which is today, a group called Equal Justice Initiative plans to issue a report about adolescents that are currently serving these sentences. They say that states should be required to review the sentences of juvenile offenders as the decades pass looking for cases where parole might be warranted.

Prosecutors and victims' rights groups say that they are opposed to such an idea and option. They believe that the people are so dangerous that only life sentences without the possibility of release are the only fit and moral response. Corrections professionals and criminologists here and abroad tend to agree that violent crime is usually a young persons activity, suggesting that eventual parole could be considered in most cases. But the American legal system is more responsive to popular concerns about crime and attitudes about punishment, while justice systems abroad tend to be administered by career civil servants rather than elected legislators, prosecutors and judges.

According to a 2005 report from Human Rights Watch & Amnesty International, 59 percent of the more than 2,200 prisoners serving life without parole for crimes they committed when they were 17 or younger had never been convicted of a previous crime. And 26 percent were in for felony murder, meaning that they participated in a crime that led to a murder but did not kill anyone themselves.

Bryan Stevenson, the executive director for Equal Justice Initiative said, " Thirteen and fourteen year old children should not be condemned to death in prison because there is always hope for a child." I tend to agree.

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