« Notable local tales on the costs of seeking the punishment of death | Main | "Commission asks: Is a crime worse if a child sees it?" »

August 23, 2009

New Heritage Foundation report defending juve LWOP sentences

I just learned of a timely new report released this past week by The Heritage Foundation on the topic of life sentences for certain juvenile offenders. The report, which is available at this link, is titled "Adult Times for Adult Crimes: Life Without Parole for Juvenile Killers and Violent Teens," and is authored by Charles Stimson and Andrew Grossman.  As its title suggests, this lengthy report reads like an amicus brief in support of states seeking to defend the use of LWOP for juve offenders in the upcoming SCOTUS cases Graham and Sullivan.

The report has an executive summary that starts this way:

Life without parole for the very worst juvenile offenders is reasonable, constitutional, and (appropriately) rare.  In response to the Western world’s worst juvenile crime problem, U.S. legislators have enacted commonsense measures to protect their citizens and hold these dangerous criminals accountable. Forty-three states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government have set the maximum punishment for juvenile offenders at life without the possibility of parole.  By the numbers, support for its use is overwhelming.

Nonetheless, its continued viability is at risk from misleading lobbying efforts in many states and court cases that seek to substitute international law for legislative judgments and constitutional text.

Emboldened by the Supreme Court’s Roper v. Simmons decision, which relied on the Eighth Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishments” language to prohibit capital sentences for juveniles, anti-incarceration activists have set about extending the result of Roper to life without parole.  If they succeed, an important tool of criminal punishment will be eliminated, and all criminal sentences could be subjected to second-guessing by judges, just as they are in capital punishment cases today.

The most visible aspects of this campaign are a number of self-published reports and “studies” featuring photographs of young children and litigation attacking the constitutionality of life without parole for juvenile offenders — including two cases that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear in its 2009 term.

Because the activists have monopolized the debate over life without parole, legislatures, courts, the media, and the public have been misled on crucial points.  For example, dozens of newspaper articles, television reports, and court briefs have echoed the activists’ assertion that 2,225 juvenile offenders are serving LWOP sentences in the United States, despite that this figure is nothing more than a manufactured statistic.  This report is an effort to set the record straight. It provides reliable facts and analysis, as well as detailed case studies, with full citations to primary sources.

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

August 23, 2009 at 09:26 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference New Heritage Foundation report defending juve LWOP sentences:


"Because the activists have monopolized the debate over life without parole, legislatures, courts, the media, and the public have been misled on crucial points"

What? Courts have been mislead by non-party activists?

And really, the Heritage foundation *IS* a bunch of activists.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 23, 2009 9:40:09 PM

Let's assume the younger criminals are immature, inexperienced, and more impulsive than older criminals. That makes them more dangerous, more difficult to control. They are the ones that need to be executed before all others. Because of their unstable states, they are even better lawyer customers than older criminals. The Supreme Court, however, conservative, will preserve these sources of lawyer employment at the cost of the massive damage and injuries these lawyer clients will inflict on peers, staff, and even themselves.

If any are discharged, they should be placed in halfway houses across from the homes of the Supreme Court cult criminals. Keep the supervision light, so as to avoid encumbering their freedom of actions unnecessarily.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 23, 2009 9:44:58 PM

Some of what's in there is incorrect. E.g., they claim only Colorado and Montana have eliminated LWOP for juvies in recent years, but Texas did, too, just this year. That also rends erroneous their claim that states with 90% of the population have juvie LWOP. Take out Texas and that drops to 80% Are there others they missed or incorrectly categorized? No way to know.

Also, they critique data on the number of juvie LWOP sentences, but for the life of me I can't see to what end. Whether there are 2,200 so sentenced or roughly 1,300 (they admit the number is unknowable from current data), I'm not sure why that matters in the debate. It seems like they're the ones engaged in a "crude counting game," though that's the critique they're making of others. This is by definition a debate about exceptional cases.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Aug 24, 2009 7:44:54 AM

A big problem with the constitution as I see it is that bitterly partisan authoritarians like Stimson usually end up getting to say what's "reasonable."

The bit about substituting international law for good ole American legislative judgment was a particularly smooth piece of demagoguery. We certainly don't want them foreigners tellin' us how to do things here...particularly when it comes to locking up kids for the rest of their lives.

Posted by: Jak | Aug 24, 2009 9:57:04 AM

I am typically pretty left-leaning when it comes to punishment issues, but I have the hardest time understanding how this is an 8th Am. problem. If the juvenile defendant has been found, under the appropriate legal test, to be competent to stand trial as an adult, then they are an adult in the eyes of the law, and can be punished as adults. Now, perhaps we need to change the test for trying juveniles as adults to have it sweep less broadly, or perhaps we need a narrower test for when certain harsher punishment is on the table. But if we are going to try juveniles as adults at all, they should be subject to whatever punishment that decision entails.

Posted by: A. Nony. Mous | Aug 24, 2009 9:59:35 AM


Should these guys, if convicted, ever see the light of day? I think not.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 24, 2009 3:14:44 PM

Let's start with one basic and proven truth: Republicans are at bottom fear mongering liars. Let's go to the files to confirm that. What files? The insane pack-rat files, of course.

Posted by: George | Aug 24, 2009 4:48:06 PM

George, you're a troll.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 24, 2009 7:52:46 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB