Sentencing Kids to Life Without Parole: Costly, Cruel & Foolish
Yesterday's riff on the cruel and misguided policy of prosecuting and punishing children as if they were adults -- inspired by news that 14-year-old Kearie Brown will be tried in adult court -- shares the sentiment expressed today in a Los Angeles Times editorial that calls for a ban on "life without parole" sentences for juveniles:
Children, even really bad ones, are different from adults. That basic truth is the foundation of our juvenile justice system, which seeks to protect society from violent youth while recognizing that they haven't yet developed an adult's brainpower, resistance to peer pressure, judgment and thus moral capacity. ...
[L]ocking up children as young as 14 for life without even the most remote possibility of parole ... [is] costly, cruel and foolish.
Judges who impose harsh sentences often claim that severe punishment deters others who might be tempted to commit a similar crime. That rationale, dubious when applied to adults, is wholly misguided when applied to children who haven't developed the ability to understand or envision the lifelong consequences of impulsive action. As the editorial reminds us: [more ...]
Knowing they will live and die in prison, people who acted in the rashness of youth have no hope of returning to society, and therefore no reason to learn, or grow, or mature, or reform. But surely their example will dissuade other youth from crime? Nonsense. Kids who can't imagine next year can't imagine life in prison and can't be expected to make decisions based on something as obscure to them as parole.
California should stop treating kids as if they were adults. Kids who are now serving terms of life without parole should be given a chance to prove they've grown up and are capable of living productive lives.
Unfortunately, the California legislature has shown little interest in adopting a sensible approach to punishment of either adults or juveniles. The editorial explains the loopy logic that might derail even a stopgap reform -- a proposal to allow judges to reduce "life without parole" sentences for juveniles to "25 to life":
Even this modest, sane and humane reform could fail in Sacramento on the specious assertion that the state would be unable to bear the cost of an occasional additional parole hearing; we will instead continue to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a lifetime of imprisonment because of the actions of a teenager. No wonder California can't manage a prison system or balance a budget.
Juvenile detention facilities create jobs, after all. Maybe California should lock up all its kids to assure full employment for the state's adults.
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