Stop Sentencing Children to Life in Prison

Stop Sentencing Children to Life in Prison

Vince Southerland of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund examines the crisis of lengthy juvenile sentencing for the Root

Stop Sentencing Children to Life in Prison

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Nearly a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court reminded us of something that we all know and understand: Age matters. Children are immature and irresponsible. They do not appreciate the risks and consequences of their behavior.

Biologically, their brains are not yet fully developed. They can fall prey to peer pressure and other outside influences. As they grow older, young people change -- invariably for the better -- even when they commit the worst of crimes. These differences mean that children require different treatment from what is appropriate for adults. 

Relying on this fundamental, commonsense and scientifically supported truth, the court's decision in Miller v. Alabama barred mandatory life-without-parole sentences for young people who committed their crimes when they were under the age of 18. Miller restored some hope to the more than 2,000 individuals serving mandatory life-in-prison sentences for crimes committed before they were old enough to vote or serve in the military.

Unfortunately, many of those now tasked with molding the post-Miller landscape have chosen to ignore science, common sense and the court's command. Instead they have continued to call for lengthy, draconian sentences as an answer to adolescent criminal conduct.  

For example, in the immediate wake of the ruling, the governor of Iowa commuted the mandatory life sentences of youthful offenders in his state but instead required them to serve 60 years before seeking parole. Other states have left life without parole on the table for adolescents and added lengthy mandatory minimum sentences -- some up to 35 years' imprisonment -- before they can seek an opportunity for release.

Read it at The Root.



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