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September 30, 2009

New report on juve LWOP in Massachusetts

One of the many reasons I am always eager for the Supreme Court to take up more (non-capital) sentencing cases is because simply the decision to grant cert will often inspire public policy groups and the general public to notice and debate important (non-capital) criminal justice issues that are too often overlooked.  This reality in on full display in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to examine juvenile LWOP sentences in Graham and Sullivan: I have noticed a huge uptick in the number of  studies and press reports on life sentences for juveniles in recent months. 

The latest example comes from Massachusetts, as detailed in this Boston Globe article and this press release from the Children Law Center of Massachusetts.  Here is the start of the Globe article:

Despite its liberal reputation, Massachusetts has one of the harshest laws in the country for sentencing murderers as young as 14 to life in prison without parole, and many of the 57 people serving such mandatory sentences are first-time offenders, according to an advocacy group that wants them to become eligible for parole.

The Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, in what it said was the first comprehensive study of the 1996 law that resulted in such sentences for first-degree murder, found that a disproportionate percentage of the children locked up for the rest of their lives are black. Many of the offenders were convicted with adult codefendants, some of whom got milder sentences and have been freed.

The report [which is available at this link] followed a two-year review of most of the cases in which children ages 14, 15, and 16 were tried in adult court and sentenced to life. The study says that penalties for juvenile murderers were inadequate in the 1980s but that the Legislature went too far when it passed the current law in response to what the center describes as overblown fears of young super predators.

The group wants Governor Deval Patrick and the Legislature to change the law to at least make juveniles convicted of first-degree murder eligible for parole after 15 years, as is true for people convicted of second-degree murder. “Life-without-parole sentences may be an appropriate response to some adult crimes, especially in a state like Massachusetts that does not impose the death penalty,’’ the 33-page report said. “But the current law treats youths as young as 14 exactly like adults, regardless of their age, past conduct, level of participation in the crime, personal background, and potential for rehabilitation.’’

Other recent posts on juve LWOP and the Graham and Sullivan cases:

September 30, 2009 at 09:31 AM | Permalink

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