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July 6, 2012

"Time to deal on life sentences for kids"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new commentary now up at CNN authored by Jeanne Bishop and Mark Osler. Here are excerpts:

The Supreme Court has now [found LWOP for juvenile murderers unconstitutional], at least in cases where the sentence of life without parole was mandatory.  (About 80% of the 2,500 inmates who are serving life sentences for crimes committed when they were juveniles were sentenced under mandatory sentencing systems, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.)  Now the question is what an alternative to juvenile life without parole should look like, particularly in states without adult parole or with restricted adult parole.

It's tricky, emotional terrain, but we must now go there.  And it will not be easy.  Too often, the discussion surrounding the issue has been strident.  Victims' groups, such as the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers, have depicted some advocates for juveniles as callous to the trauma of victims.  Some opponents of juvenile life sentences, such as Mary Ellen Johnson of the Pendulum Foundation, have characterized life without parole as pure retribution.

Neither side has made much effort to find a middle ground between justice and mercy.  We need a new model, one that provides a meaningful opportunity for juveniles who have served an appropriate amount of time for taking a human life to seek release, while at the same time weighing public safety and ensuring that the voices of victims' families are sought out and heard.

And now that the Supreme Court has forced our hand, we call on those who have opposed one another to come together and talk.  The important questions are not the ones behind us, but the ones in front: Who gets to decide on releasing these convicts, and when?

What notification and resources, if any, should be provided to victims' family members whose loved ones were murdered by a juvenile?  How often and under what conditions should a murderer who was a juvenile at the time of his crime be able to seek release?

What should inform the decision of whether to release him?

The range of factors in making such a decision is vast: It could include observations about the juvenile made by guards and social workers in correctional facilities who come into contact with him every day; input from childhood teachers, neighbors and family members; psychological and medical information; anything that would shed light on future dangerousness.

We need at the table experts in child psychology and brain development, prison staff, counselors, academics, murder victims' family members -- all important voices that have too often been left out of the process.

Other reforms should include eliminating mandatory transfers of defendants from juvenile to adult courts and shifting funds from incarceration to crime prevention programs and victims' services.

As the Supreme Court's decision reflected, juvenile life without parole strikes to the core of key definitional issues for our society: the meaning of childhood, the role of rehabilitation and redemption in criminal law, and the searing pain caused by senseless murders.

These issues have been important enough to divide us; now that the Supreme Court has ruled, they should unite us.

Related recent posts on Miller:

July 6, 2012 at 03:38 PM | Permalink


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NC's General Assembly passed a Miller compliance bill this week. I have no reason to think the Governor will not sign it. The bill would allow a judge to impose LWOP for defendants under 18 after considering the mitigating aspects of youth. It creates an alternative sentence of life with the possibility of parole after 25 years. It also eliminates juvenile LWOP for felony murder convictions for defendants under 18. It does not directly address retroactivity, other than to say that the procedure it creates applies to any resentencing "required by law." The bill is posted online here http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2011/Bills/Senate/PDF/S635v4.pdf

Posted by: Jamie Markham | Jul 6, 2012 4:14:49 PM

Let's hope that Romney gets to replace a lib justice or three and this nonsense can be righted.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 6, 2012 4:40:37 PM

@ federalist:

Even if Romney gets to replace any of the members of the liberal bloc, it might not matter:

WaPo: Why are Republicans so awful at picking Supreme Court justices?


Posted by: Guy | Jul 6, 2012 5:50:19 PM

What's nonsense Federali --- the science relied upon by Kagan?

Posted by: Eric Leslie | Jul 6, 2012 5:55:07 PM

We will never get beyond the constant struggle and strife of conflict over issues such as these until parties learn to resolve differences responsibly rather than by going to war over every disagreement and fight to win and ensure that their adversary loses. The mentality is not much different from that of those who commit crimes--only the reasons for the justification are different. If people would be willing to practice for themselves the principles of faith or, otherwise, philosophy that they profess, conflict over differences might eventually be resolved. If those competent in the practices of effective conflict resolution and negotiation were involved in this process, agreements could be forged that were both responsible and respectful of the concerns on both sides of the issue. Those most capable of addressing the concerns in this context and trained in conflict resolution, are those educated and trained in restorative justice, the same approach that has provided for the resolution of differences over which nations have gone to war and atrocities have been committed by one member of society against another. Dr. Howard Zehr of Eastern Mennonite University and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have been two of the foremost pioneers in the field. http://www.restorativejustice.org/

Posted by: Lamar Culpepper | Jul 6, 2012 8:07:14 PM

Any prisoner released under Miller, who kills again? The families of the murder victim should find who released him, hunt them, and knee cap them.

I have no idea what to do about the Supreme Court, except to elect an executive who will arrest them, try them for their insurrection against the constitution, and summarily execute them. In the meantime, all Justices of the Supreme Court should be boycotted by all service and product providers. If you see one in the street, please spit in their face.

Something has to be done about the out of control judicial branch. 1) change the number of all appellate court judges to an even one, ending 5-4 decisions; 2) move the Supreme Court to Wichita, KS; 3) if they are going to legislate, make their number a legislative one, such as 500 Supreme Court justices; 4) exclude from all appellate courts by constitutional amendment anyone who has passed 1L, because of its mental crippling effect.

Any doctor treating a member of the Supreme Court is a traitor to the profession and to the nation. He should be ostracized, lose his privileges due to poor moral character. If a gang of doctors comes upon him at some meeting, take him for a ride to a tree in front of a local courthouse, give him 50 lashes, and a hot branding of T for traitor. They should share the fate of Dr. Mudd, the doctor who conspired and treated John Wilks Booth.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 6, 2012 9:01:56 PM

I am co-author Jeanne Bishop's sister and the President of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers (NOVJL www.teenkillers.org) While I appreciate the positive and forward looking tone of this piece, and agree with much of it, one important mischaracterization in this article needs to be corrected. Where the article says that we have "not made much of an effort" to find middle ground with advocates for the juvenile offenders, that is simply factually not correct.

We felt it was important to correct any possible misimpression in this regard. Not wishing to drag readers through 6 years of phone calls, outreach, travel to meetings, lengthy conversations, many emails, and even a facilitated restorative justice circle between myself and advocates for those who wish to free my murdered family members' killer, only to get for the most part the cold shoulder and information blackout in return, I felt it was very important to point out that in fact a significant effort has been made by NOVJL to find common ground with those who have set themselves as our opponents.

The failure to find common ground has not been for any lack of effort on our part.

Finally, if such negotiations now can finally happen, as we called for in our press release on the day that the Supreme Court ruled in the Miller case, representation of murder victims families cannot just be with victims who agree with offender advocates. They must invite ALL affected victims families to the table who want to participate. None of us can speak for the other. Cases and situations are very diverse.

We are hopeful now that this can finally happen. We have asked Jody Kent of the National Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY) to contact us to discuss this. As always - WE do the outreach. No response yet. Time will tell if the effort to mediate good policy for all concerned going forward will include the victims families most affected by this ruling.

Jennifer Bishop Jenkins

President, NOVJL


Posted by: Jennifer Bishop Jenkins | Jul 6, 2012 9:26:31 PM

Maddening. We are in the upside down world of the lawyer Twilight Zone. Adolescents brains are superior in every way tested and imaged. As a result, their performances are superior. Such superior performances include a crime rate lower than that of adults, along with lower substance abuse, and every social pathology you wish to name. Stupid people on the Supreme Court have said the opposite. Our government is either in the hands of mental cripples or liars trying to generate massive make work jobs for lawyers. This could be a nightmare, save we are all awake.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 6, 2012 10:17:41 PM

Again, the key litmus test is whether the objective characteristic being used to lower or raise the mortgage rate for a given group is substantive in its own right with respect to the risk or profitability of the potential loan, rather than mere a proxy for racial discrimination.

Posted by: bike accident lawyer | Jul 11, 2012 6:30:26 AM

Thanks for the info. Some kids should be put in juvenile detention, but most kids should be taught better. Their parents might end up needing criminal lawyers, but some things just have to be done.

Posted by: stevenrogers | Nov 16, 2012 10:56:03 PM

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