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September 14, 2016

"Righting Wrongs: The Five-Year Groundswell of State Bans on Life Without Parole for Children"

The title of this post is the title of this new report from The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.  Here is its "Executive Summary":

In just five years — from 2011 to 2016 — the number of states that ban death-in-prison sentences for children has more than tripled. In 2011, only five states did not permit children to be sentenced to life without parole. Remarkably, between 2013 and 2016, three states per year have eliminated life-without- parole as a sentencing option for children. Seventeen states now ban the sentence.

This rapid rate of change, with twelve states prohibiting the penalty in the last four years alone, represents a dramatic policy shift, and has been propelled in part by a growing understanding of children’s unique capacity for positive change. Several decades of scientific research into the adolescent brain and behavioral development have explained what every parent and grandparent already know — that a child’s neurological and decision-making capacity is not the same as those of an adult.  Adolescents have a neurological proclivity for risk-taking, making them more susceptible to peer pressure and contributing to their failure to appreciate long-term consequences.  At the same time, these developmental deficiencies mean that children’s personalities are not as fixed as adults, making them predisposed to maturation and rehabilitation.  In other words, children can and do change. In fact, research has found that most children grow out of their criminal behaviors by the time they reach adulthood.

Drawing in part from the scientific research, as well as several recent U.S. Supreme Court cases ruling that life-without-parole sentences violate the U.S. Constitution for the overwhelming majority of children, there is growing momentum across state legislatures to reform criminal sentencing laws to prohibit children from being sentenced to life without parole and to ensure that children are given meaningful opportunities to be released based on demonstrated growth and positive change.  This momentum has also been fueled by the examples set by formerly incarcerated individuals who were once convicted of serious crimes as children, but who are now free, contribute positively to their communities, and do not pose a risk to public safety.

In addition to the rapid rate of change, legislation banning life without parole for children is notable for the geographic, political, and cultural diversity of states passing these reforms, as well as the bipartisan nature in which bills have passed, and the overwhelming support within state legislatures.

Currently, Nevada, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, Kansas, Kentucky, Iowa, Texas, West Virginia, Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii, Delaware, Connecticut, and Massachusetts all ban life without parole sentences for children. Additionally California, Florida, New York, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia ban life without parole for children in nearly all cases.

It is also important to note that three additional states — Maine, New Mexico, and Rhode Island — have never imposed a life-without-parole sentence on a child.  Several other states have not imposed the sentence on a child in the past five years, as states have moved away from this inappropriate sentence both in law and in practice.

September 14, 2016 at 04:22 PM | Permalink

Comments

You know you're not dealing with a serious or objective party when you have the ridiculous framing of the issue. "Child", "children" does not remotely address what we are talking about when we impose life without the possibility of parole on a juvenile.

The majority of these "children" have been convicted of special circumstances murder. Had they not been juveniles or had the US Sumpreme Court not taken it away they would be death eligible. The others typically have been adjudicated for numerous violent crimes.

These persons are under 18. A few are quite a bit younger. Saying they are children just does not quite capture why some states keep LWOP for juveniles.

LWOP for a juvenile is extremely harsh. It should be reserved for a very select few. Calling them children does nothing to advance a reasonable discussion of the issues. In fairness, they aren't interested in that. That report is a fundraising tool.

While it was plainly biased, the Atlantic article on direct filing on juveniles noted earlier on this blog doesn't use that kind of silliness.

Posted by: David | Sep 14, 2016 11:12:39 PM

We are talking about people who are not adults. They are "children."

This seems "remotely" relevant to the conversation. I get the word has a certain symbolic and emotional weight that colors the conversation. But, they still are "children."

Posted by: Joe | Sep 14, 2016 11:37:16 PM

Once again, more sophistry from Joe. David's point: "Calling them children does nothing to advance a reasonable discussion of the issues." He's right about that, and that "children" can mean people under 18 isn't really a defense because it's not a normal use of the word in this context. People don't generally refer to high school kids in general as "children", unless it's perjorative, e.g., teacher to HS class, "you're acting like a bunch of children."

Posted by: federalist | Sep 15, 2016 9:50:20 AM

Statement: "Child", "children" does not remotely address what we are talking about when we impose life without the possibility of parole on a juvenile.


We are talking about people who are not adults. AKA children. Society treats them differently than adults, including in line-drawing ways (voting, military service, etc.) though the lines at times are have exceptions (so "functional adults" are treated like adults). But, that just moves us to "functional." Children v. adults still are things.

YMMV, but yes, I think it "remotely addresses" what we are talking about. I agreed the word does color the situation in certain ways. But, when you speak in extreme terms ("not remotely address"), people will push back.

As to what "people" generally refer, they call non-adults "children" in various cases. Finally, it is not only "pejorative" even in the case with high school students. It's a statement also of what they actually are. They aren't, e.g., entrusted with certain responsibilities and when they complain, they might be reminded they are not adults yet. They are still children. This is "remotely" relevant.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 15, 2016 10:47:54 AM

ETA: Did a quick search and found repeated examples of "children" being applied to teenagers/high school students in a general sense. It's a thing, besides being factually true. Did not deny the term colors the conversation some, but so would using a word that ignores the fact they were children. Each side here frames things.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 15, 2016 10:56:38 AM

Even adults are still children (unless some kind of miracle is involved).

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 15, 2016 4:46:17 PM

Joe,

I never said it was not remotely "relevant". Age alone does not capture or address the issue. Emotionally loaded terms without why they got LWOP or how old they really are does not remotely address the issue.

Posted by: David | Sep 15, 2016 5:42:10 PM

"ETA: Did a quick search and found repeated examples of "children" being applied to teenagers/high school students in a general sense. It's a thing, besides being factually true. Did not deny the term colors the conversation some, but so would using a word that ignores the fact they were children. Each side here frames things."

Once again, Joe descends into sophistry and idiocy--my point wasn't that high school kids could never be called children. Of course they can. Off the top of my head, I don't know/can't think of all the permutations. But as someone who is a native speaker of English (American version), I can say with 100% certainty that "child" when referring strictly to the age of someone (and not offspring) generally means pre-adolescent, unless there is some ende. Thus, "there's a child" doesn't leap to mind when I see a high schooler.

But we know that--and you know that--so what do you do? Do the lame-o "well both sides do it"--well, maybe, but so what--these guys are using an emotionally laden term (kinda like DPIC's "Innocence List") to obfuscate the reality.

And the other thing, you imply that no other term gets the job done--um, how about "minor" or "juvenile"?

Joe, you are a tendentious, mewling idiot that throws up weak crap to defend the indefensible.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 16, 2016 9:54:57 AM

"unless there is some ende"

unless there is some endearment or perjorative association or some other reason (e.g., to evoke sympathy for some 17 year like Christopher Simmons).

Posted by: federalist | Sep 16, 2016 9:57:09 AM

I forgot this:

"But, when you speak in extreme terms ("not remotely address"), people will push back."

Once again, you are a tendentious, mewling idiot. You push back because you're stupid. Calling a guy like Christopher Simmons a "child" does NOT remotely address the issue. It picks one attribute--i.e., that he happened to be a few months shy of his 18th birthday--and creates an association that would tend to obscure the fact that "children" who get LWOP generally did some horrible things.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 16, 2016 10:07:39 AM

Free legal content updated at law farm

Posted by: Aslam | Sep 17, 2016 12:10:30 PM

Not sure the trend has any legal significance (although am certain those who want to reduce punishment for juvenile offenders will make the argument). In this case, there is a rather significant non-legislative intervening factor -- a U.S. Supreme Court decision. That decision basically tossed existing state laws for juvenile offenders into the trash. Given the fact that the decision left only a narrow window for juvenile lwop, it is not surprising that most states figured that it was not worth the effort to try to draft a new juvenile lwop law. (The amazing thing about the death penalty is how many states made an attempt to re-write their statutes in the 1970s after Furman so that they could still have a death penalty.)

Posted by: tmm | Sep 19, 2016 3:28:33 PM

The number is very worried. they are children not criminal. they still need education for next future. I hope goverment have a good policy fir this issued.

Posted by: spellmirelaw | Sep 21, 2016 1:14:49 AM

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