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May 25, 2011

Post-Graham advocacy that "Every Child Deserves a Second Chance"

The title of this post is drawn from the title of this new commentary now appearing at The Huffington Post.  The piece is by Anthony Barkow, Executive Director of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University School of Law, and here are excerpts:

Just one year ago in Graham v. Florida, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life without the opportunity for parole for a non-homicide crime committed when they were under age 18.  The Court concluded that these offenders should have an opportunity to have their sentences reviewed, and the logic of the Court's opinion extends to every young person convicted of a serious crime.

I was a prosecutor for 12 years.  During that time, I prosecuted a wide variety of crimes, ranging from international terrorism to securities fraud, from domestic violence and sexual abuse to homicide.  I prosecuted cases in which offenders received very substantial sentences. I am proud of my work as a prosecutor and I have no doubt that criminal punishment is critical to keeping communities safe....

But ... there are other youthful defendants who have been sentenced to unjust sentences of life without the opportunity for parole....  [And there is a] critical fact to keep in mind about those seeking to end life without parole for juveniles.  No one is arguing that any particular individual should be let out of prison.  Ending juvenile life without parole merely leaves open the possibility that a child who commits a crime can petition for release later in life, if he can demonstrate that he is remorseful, has rehabilitated, and will not reoffend.  Parole authorities can and should be trusted to make informed, reasoned decisions regarding the release and continued incarceration of inmates petitioning for parole.

This approach makes sense as a matter of justice and economics.  Juvenile offenders have diminished culpability: a view supported by science -- and common sense, as anyone can attest to who remembers his or her years as a teenager.  Juvenile offenders also have increased potential for rehabilitation and, in fact, even without intervention, most offenders age out of crime commission.  Thus, in certain instances, spending on extremely lengthy terms of incarceration on juveniles would be wasteful.

Extending the reasoning in Graham, so that it applies to every young person, will have no significant adverse impact on public safety and will allow for flexibility in juvenile sentencing.  This will reduce incarceration costs and support the possibility for rehabilitation in young offenders.  As a society we can no longer afford to declare youth worthless and sentence them to die in prison without giving them an opportunity to have their sentence reviewed.  Before Graham's next anniversary, policy makers must implement reforms to end the practice of sentencing youth to life without parole.

May 25, 2011 at 02:02 PM | Permalink


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"Deserves"? That's an interesting word to describe some of these criminals. Society "deserves" to be free from their predations.

Posted by: federalist | May 25, 2011 7:25:42 PM

Where is that ipse dixit found or justified? Worse than nonsense, it is really code for, "Every left wing , worthless government, rent seeking parasite deserves a sinecure, especially if feminist."

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 26, 2011 6:26:03 AM

yes i think the same thats every child to have second chance at least for sure.

Posted by: Atlanta Injury Lawyer | May 26, 2011 8:32:45 AM

There is no principled distinction in cutting off LWOP at younger than 18. Why not 17, or 19? Many otherwise death eligible killers have the "possibility" of rehabilitation, so really you are advocating against LWOP (or death) itself because there are no absolutes. No crime is so henious or so depraved that if committed by 17 year it at least deserves LWOP (or death) in your view. They can possibly be rehabilitated you say.

Yes, the 8th Amendment places limits on punishment, however the fact that Graham is being used primarily in the courts (and not in state legislatures or via the initiative process where this belongs) to eliminate LWOP for special circumstance murder is evidence that the Supreme Court jumped the gun on our "evolving standards of decency in a maturing society."

Posted by: David | May 26, 2011 9:45:35 AM

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