Currently, over 2,500 people are serving a life sentence without the option of parole for crimes committed as adolescents. Fortunately, this policy is not considered in all states. Twelve states have discontinued life sentences without the option of parole for juveniles. Almost two- thirds of life without parole sentences for juveniles (JLWOP) happens in five states. Seventy-three children were ages 13 or 14 at time that their crime was committed. Research has been conducted that proves the vast difference in brain development of a child compared to an adult. Society does not allow minors to purchase cigarettes or alcohol, enlist into the military or enter into a legal binding agreement such as an apartment lease until the age of 18 or older because of the knowledge that minors are not mature enough to make certain decisions. However, when a minor commits homicide we allow them to be sentenced as an adult and disregard their partial brain development and decreased culpability. It is the responsibility of society to protect our children from cruel and unusual punishment such as juvenile life without parole sentences. The policy brief will give a history of the juvenile justice system, trends, and current state. Brief will also address importance of the problem and recommendations for reform of this policy.
CONTEXT AND IMPORTANCE OF THE PROBLEM
Almost everyone would agree that children are the core of our future. Therefore, it is imperative that we have laws/policies in place that will protect them from cruel and unusual punishment in any capacity. However, much debate continues to arise concerning mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders. In attempting to change a social policy concerning the juvenile justice system it is important to address the concern in its context. Therefore, reviewing the history of the juvenile justice system is imperative when attempting to understand the system in its current state. The attitude of society towards juvenile offenders has drastically changed over the years and therefore impacted the overall goal of the system. The juvenile system was established in the late 1800s with the goal to reform and rehabilitate. During this time it was the belief that "bad environments caused bad children". Consequently, specialized institutions called reformatories were formed to inseminate home like environments. The main belief that motivated this structure of the system was that children were far different from adults and would have unique individualized needs. Contrary to the gentle idea of reformatories children were often subjected to harsh labor conditions in factories and farms. Often, children who reached fifteen years of age were seen as children with little to no hope of rehabilitation and as a result were transferred to adult prisons. During this era the system was not prepared to address serious offenses committed by juveniles and therefore lacked execution of formal due process rights. In 1899 the first juvenile court system was created and soon after in 1906 the first federal system followed. By 1925, almost all states established juvenile court systems and probation services. Due to a case in 1966 the Court decided that juveniles had the right to have procedural protections and due process rights. In the late 1980s violent crimes committed by juveniles dramatically increased. The increase in crime resulted in stricter crime legislation all through the nation. The new legislation was said to be motivated by fear due to frequent incidents of school violence. This legislation formed the belief that adult crimes should be addressed with adult punishment. Consequences to juvenile crime seemed to be more punitive, contrary to past ideas of rehabilitation and reform for juveniles. The number of juvenile offenders being imprisoned enlarged and the cruelty of sentencing began to include life without parole. More recently, it seems...
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