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October 6, 2008

Assailing LWOP for juvenile offenders

This new paper appearing on SSRN, titled "Sentencing Our Children to Die in Prison: Global Law and Practice," takes aim at the sentencing of juvenile offenders to life imprisonment without parole.  Here is the abstract:

This article focuses on the sentencing of child offenders (those convicted of crimes when younger than eighteen years of age) to a term of life imprisonment without the possibility of release or parole ("LWOP"). It argues that the LWOP sentence condemns a child to die in prison, is cruel and ineffective as a punishment, has no deterrent value, contradicts our modern understanding that children have enormous potential for growth and maturity in passing from youth to adulthood, prevents society from ever reconsidering a child's sentence, and denies the widely held expert view that children are amenable to rehabilitation and redemption.

The article asserts that the United States is the world's only remaining practitioner of LWOP sentencing of juveniles, and that in the United State the sentence is applied disproportionately among youth of color.  The article analyzes international human rights standards and international law to demonstrate that imposing sentences of LWOP for child offenders is a violation of law. The article identifies several juvenile justice and rehabilitation models of other countries and United States states that can serve as alternatives to harsh and inappropriate sentencing for children, and it makes recommendations to governments and policy-makers for remedying violations of international human rights standards, and for improving the opportunities for juvenile rehabilitation.

The authors conclude by recommending that: countries should continue to denounce as a violation of international law the practice of sentencing juveniles to LWOP, to condemn the practice among the remaining governments which allow such sentencing, and to call upon those where the law may be ambiguous to institute legal reforms confirming the prohibition of such sentencing. The authors further recommend that the United States should abolish the juvenile LWOP sentence under federal law and undertake efforts to bring the United States into compliance with its international obligations to prohibit this sentencing.

October 6, 2008 at 09:15 PM | Permalink


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I'm a Sudent Majoring in Criminal justice. I think
the Laws need to be changed

Posted by: Bravewolf | Oct 7, 2008 9:16:35 PM

There is certainly no one size fits all solution to this extremely serious problem of teens who commit very heinous murders. Whatever discussions are being held in the public policy realm on this sentence must bring all stakeholders to the table, and first and foremost among those stakeholders are the victims families. We have put up a website to advocate for our voices to be included in this debate at www.jlwopvictims.org.

We ask everyone working on this issue to make a special effort to be sensitive to the fact that the focus should not be on the "poor kids in prison" because most of them were 17, are not kids at all, and committed extremely cold calculated, pre-planned, exceptionally aggravated offenses. The victims families are devastated beyond measure for life.

There has yet been no acknowledgement of the harms first caused to victims by those advocating to end the sentence.

We ask that Restorative Justice principles be respected in this debate - that the victims families are brought to the table and supported. That the harms and their staggering consequences first be acknowledged. And that proposals to change the sentence do not take the course of balancing the changes primarily on the backs of victims, as periodic parole reviews for life would do.

We instead urge reformers to look at the mandatory transfer mechanisms from juvenile to adult court systems.

And bring victims into the discussion. There are thousands of us who do not know about the debate about this sentence - they have no idea that the life without parole sentences promised their families for the worst thing anyone could ever do to another person are being threatened.

All advocates to end this sentence must first be found, notified, and empowered to participate if they so choose, in the discussion.

NOVJL stands ready to assist but we are small, with no funds or staff, and with no access to these many victims families. A few of us have found each other and organized. But the long journey has just begun. We need everyone's support.

The National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers NOVJL

Posted by: Jennifer | Oct 8, 2008 10:32:38 AM

Correction: the advocates to reform the sentence must find, notify, empower the VICTIMS to participate if they so choose . ..

Posted by: Jennifer | Oct 8, 2008 10:38:14 AM

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