Kids Locked Up For Life

by TChris

Adam Liptak continues his extraordinary analysis of our prison nation in today’s NY Times, specifically focusing on the 9,700 prisoners who are “serving life sentences for crimes they committed before they could vote, serve on a jury or gamble in a casino — in short, before they turned 18.” The number of juvenile offenders serving life sentences has increased significantly in the past decade as legislators have searched for new ways to posture themselves as “tough on crime.” Tough on children would be a more honest campaign slogan.

Once again, punishment philosophy in the land of the free is out of whack with sentencing practices in other countries. About 2,200 U.S. inmates were sentenced to life without parole before they turned 18. More than 350 of those were 15 or younger. Juveniles sentenced to life without parole are presently imprisoned in only three other countries: South Africa (4), Israel (7), and Tanzania (1).

Are these sentences ripe for attack?

The Supreme Court's decision earlier this year to ban the juvenile death penalty, which took into account international attitudes about crime and punishment, has convinced prosecutors and activists that the next legal battleground in the United States will be over life in prison for juveniles.

Society has long maintained age distinctions for things like drinking alcohol and signing contracts, and the highest court has ruled that youths under 18 who commit terrible crimes are less blameworthy than adults. Defense lawyers and human rights advocates say that logic should extend to sentences of life without parole.

Commentary on Liptak's analysis in Sunday's Times on adult life sentences and the aging of the prison population is here and here.

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    Re: Kids Locked Up For Life (none / 0) (#1)
    by Johnny on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:37 PM EST
    Even the most hardened of wrong wing rah rah crowd needs to step back and think about what their failed law and order experiment has wrought... But they will now. they will look at each other and go: "This is what happens when you get soft on crime..." Sheep.

    Re: Kids Locked Up For Life (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:37 PM EST
    Without some context, it's impossible to say whether there's a problem or not. I 16 year old locked away for some stupid war on drugs possession charge is one thing (bad, IMHO) - a 16 year old locked away for multiple killings would be something else again. Without context, there's no way to say whether this is reasonable or unreasonable.

    Re: Kids Locked Up For Life (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:38 PM EST
    charley, your question doesn't have enough context, IMHO. There's a difference between a "crime of passion" (regardless of age), and a hardened gang banger who remorselessly sprays an area with gunfire, killing a bunch of people. The former deserves a lot more understanding than the latter, even though they should both be put away.

    Re: Kids Locked Up For Life (none / 0) (#4)
    by kdog on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:38 PM EST
    The above posts show the importance of leaving the discretion in the hands of judges, and not passing ever more mandatory minimums and using one size fits all justice. JR has it right, every crime is different and has different extenuating circumstances. Painting every case with the same sentencing-brush makes little sense.

    Re: Kids Locked Up For Life (none / 0) (#5)
    by peacrevol on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:38 PM EST
    In Texas, kids are being tried as adults more and more for the most serious crimes. Different circumstances should always be considered in any case. Even the most terrible crimes sometimes have circumstances that should be considered. For example, if group think is involved and there are more than one kid involved, you have to weigh the punishment against the level of involvement. If you had a group of kids that killed someone, they can all be tried for the same crime by involvement (you were there so you're as guilty as if you had pulled the trigger, so to speak). That is bogus. However, for the kid that was the main perp., trial as an adult may be the right thing. For that to work though, we have to be able to select the judges that would be the best at deciding where that line is and who has crossed it and who has not. Manditory minimums and "one size fits all justice" is definately not the right thing to do. But for the alternative to work as it should, voters must be informed about their choices in electing officials that would make the decisions. I feel that a two party system that is as politically driven as the current system does not give us as voters the best resources to make informed decisions about the officials we elect. So, within the current system, I'm not sure that we will ever be able to get it right. Manditory minimums is never the right answer, but the alternative within the current system is also not sufficient.

    Re: Kids Locked Up For Life (none / 0) (#6)
    by Tim on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:38 PM EST
    The series has been quite interesting. It's overkill to lock up a teenager (under 18) for the rest of that person's life. It's a waste of the person's life and his or her value to society and it's probably a waste of money. A person under the age of 18 that commits a serious crime should have sentence that will allow society to revisit the matter. Perhaps a minimum sentence of years followed by normal parole opportunities (although the NY Times articles make it clear that parole may not be likely even if it is possible). In some cases - the person should not released, but in many cases the old man or woman is not the same person that commited the crime. Yet another reason why judges should have appropriate discretion in sentencing.

    Re: Kids Locked Up For Life (none / 0) (#7)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:39 PM EST
    South Africa (4), Israel (7), and Tanzania (1). vs. United States: 9,700 prisoners Best evidence I've seen of the utter and complete foolishness of "mandatory minimums".

    Re: Kids Locked Up For Life (none / 0) (#8)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:04:39 PM EST
    Tim makes sense. It may be difficult for legislatures to repeal the life sentences for murder. Not many legislators will want to be attacked by their next opponent for being soft on murderers.

    'Juvenile Justice" (none / 0) (#9)
    by mary Des on Sat Apr 12, 2008 at 01:15:45 AM EST
    I founded an organization back in 2002, F.A.C.C.
    I help parents of incarcerated juveniles fight for the rights of their children. There are many flaws within the system. Once a child is put into the system they rarely get out. There have been instances of abuse mentally and physically to the kids while incarcerated. Each year more and more are incarcerated, but the State and County Officials keep spending money on building new facilities. Most children who are incarcerated have some type of mental disability, and caused by coming from homes that are gang related, drugs, and some are homeless throw away kids. The courts do not take that into consideration. We had a law firm come down to San Diego and they sued for change and reform. Many children were being given a psych drug called Seraquel, which is bad for anyone under 18 to be administered. We have asked the Governor to build a facility to house the kids who have problems mentally, and provide a special program to rehabilitate them to be able to live in the community again and not get into trouble. However the County needs money so they keep recycling the kids as a commodity to make money for the debts owed to the State. Sad but true. Some kids are not even tried as a juvenile and sent to prisons. A juvenile doesn't have the mind of an adult! Why try them like one? The Governor still has not made the changes that were suppose to happen. The kids are still being recycled through the system! I call it "The Killing Fields"! They don't have resources for good attorneys, and the court appointed work for the county! Many judges are very biased, and the DA's are corrupt and work along with the prosecutors! The probation department is corrupt and will not change anything for the better! The kids don't have a chance, only to learn from the worst they are locked up with, go home and return in three weeks with a new charge. What is America doing to our children?

    Kid's locked up for life (none / 0) (#10)
    by mary Des on Sat Apr 12, 2008 at 01:26:53 AM EST
    I am presently involved with trying to help a child who was arrested at age fourteen and sent to prison for life without parole and the Supreme Court denied the chance of an appeal. This child is now 16 years old and has served two years for just "involvement" and no one was hurt! If this boy had been tried as a juvenile he would have probably been put on a years probation, and served three months in a juvenile camp. Children do not belong in prison! I feel for this boy and there are presently 73 other known cases of "NO" parole and sentenced to life. A law firm out of Alabama is currently trying to get the sentence overturned. This child should have never gone to prison, and has been subjected to many hard criminals, lifers, who use and abuse the children. As parents we try to protect our children from predators, and the system is throwing them in the prisons amongst the worst! Children are endangered in prison! if anyone would like to help you can e-mail me at mdes4u6191@aol.com. We are presently writing letters to Washington. Maybe one day soon the laws will change and no child will ever have to see prison walls again.