History 303 The American Constitution
Instructor David Ellett
March 14, 2011
Children In Adult Prisons
In the United States, children are sentenced to adult prisons and given adult prison terms. Many of these children are sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Some of the children were 13 and 14 years old. The children are sentenced to die in prison with no regard to age life history, or familial circumstances. Some states sentence children to life without parole for non homicidal offenses. While children must learn to be accountable for their actions, sentencing children to adult prison terms are cruel and insensitive. This is supported by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Giving children adult sentences in adult institutions denies a child the chance for rehabilitation. Also, the majority of children sentenced to life in prison without parole are black, poor, and poorly educated. (Equal Justice Initiative, 2009). The Eighth Amendment protects citizens against cruel and unusual punishment. The Fourteenth Amendment protects citizens from being deprived the rights of life, liberty, and property by the states. These Amendments were not considered when sentencing children in several states. In several cases that did not involve homicide, very young children were given life sentences in prison without the possibility of parole. In the case of Sullivan versus Florida, Joe Sullivan was 13 years old when convicted of sexual battery. The state of Florida sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In 1989, Joe Sullivan, an African American, was 13 years old when he was tried as an adult and sent to an adult prison in Florida. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His background was not taken into account. Joe is developmentally handicapped and was a victim of child abuse. He was both sexually and physical abused at home (Equal Justice Initiative, 2009). Sullivan and two older boys broke into an elderly woman’s home. The home was robbed of jewelry and personal possessions. Sullivan went home after the robbery. One of the boys went back to the home and sexually assaulted the woman. Biological evidence was lost or destroyed and therefore never entered at the trail. The woman only knew that it was a Black male that attacked her. The woman never saw the person that attacked her (Equal Justice Initiative, 2009). The two older boys blamed Sullivan for sexually assaulting an elderly woman and served time as juveniles in a juvenile facility. Sullivan was the only one tried as an adult. He was poorly represented in court. His lawyer allowed testimony that should have never been entered. Biological evidence was destroyed before the trial. As a result of poor representation in this case, Sullivan’s lawyer was later disbarred. Lawyers from the Equal Justice Initiative came to Sullivan’s rescue. They challenged his case in state court. The petition was denied so they took it to the Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction in the case of Sullivan vs. Florida, because they realized that it was cruel and unusual punishment to sentence him to life in prison for a non homicidal offense. By giving him life in prison and not allowing him a chance for rehabilitation, he was denied his Eighth Amendment rights. Florida vs. Sullivan is an additional example that two thirds of all children in prison are black, poor and abused (Equal Justice Initiative 2009). The case of Graham vs. Florida was ruled in the favor of the child. Terrence Graham was 16 years old when he was convicted of armed burglary and armed attempted robbery. He was on
Probation at the time. He and another boy robbed a store. The other boy struck the store manager with a pipe. Graham was offered 3 years probation for a plea...