Cruel or Just Unusual?
Juvenile Sentencing: Life without Parole, Cruel or Just Unusual?
When the Judge announced the verdict “Guilty” there was a slight murmur in the court room as was expected. Then the Judge began to announce the sentence “Life in prison without the possibility of parole”, the words cutting through the air like an arrow through a paper target. The courtroom was an arena of mixed feelings, half cheering in a celebratory manner, the other half crying and shouting in disbelief. Someone’s 13 year old son was going to prison for the rest of his life without any chance of parole. Children should never be sentenced to life without parole, making the sentence in itself a death penalty for a juvenile. This scenario has been played out in America’s courtrooms many times over the years. Every year in the United States, children as young as thirteen are sentenced to die in prison. It’s called life without parole (LWOP, JLWOP for juveniles). It is estimated that thousands of children have been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed at an age when they are not considered responsible enough to live away from their parents, drive, make decisions related to their education or medical treatment, vote, leave school or sign a contract. Children under the age eighteen cannot legally use alcohol, serve on juries or be drafted, because they are presumed not to have the capacity to handle adult responsibilities (Labelle, Phillips, Horton, 2006). These differences are recognized throughout the world, and incorporated into many international human rights documents. Currently as of May 2009, an estimated 2,500 juveniles (ranging in age from 13 to 17) in the United States are serving a sentence of life without parole. Iraq doesn't do it and North Korea considers it a cruel form of punishment. However, in the United States sentencing a juvenile to life in prison without
Cited: Charles Stimson, Grossman, A.W. (2009, August) Adult Crime for Adult Time: Life without Parole for Juvenile Killers and Violent Teens. Washington D.C., The Heritage Foundation Center for Legal and Judicial Studies. Deborah LaBelle, Phillips, A., & Horton, L. (2006, January 1). Second Chances: Juveniles serving life sentences in Michigan prisons. Detroit, Michigan. American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. End Juvenile Life without Parole. (2009, June 9) American Civil Liberties Union Online. http://www.aclu.org/human-rights_racial-justice/end-juvenile-life-without-parole. Graham v. Florida. No. 08-7412., Supreme Court of the United States, 130 S. Ct. 357; 175 L. Ed. 2d 18; 2009 U.S., October 5, 2009, Decided. Krista Gesaman. (2009, November 4). 18 and a Life to Go. Newsweek. Kristin Henning. (2009, October 26th). The Case Against Juvenile Life Without Parole: Good Policy and Good Law. Co-Director of Juvenile Justice Clinic and Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center. Robert Barnes. (2010, May 18). Supreme Court restricts life without parole for juveniles. Washington D.C., Washington Post. Roper v. Simmons. No. 02-1057 , Supreme Court of the United States, 538 U.S. 923; 123 S. Ct. 1582; 155 L. Ed. 2d 314; 2003 U.S., March 24, 2005, Decided. Sullivan v. Florida. No. 08-7621., Supreme Court of the United States, 129 S. Ct. 2157; 173 L. Ed. 2d 1155; 2009 U.S., May 4, 2009, Decided. Warren Richey. (2010, May 17), Supreme Court puts limits on life sentences for juveniles, Staff writer, The Christian Science Monitor.