It has been over 3 years since the Supreme Court of the United States has decided that sentences of life without the possibility of parole, for crimes other than murder, are cruel and unusual punishment. It has been almost two years since the same ruling was applied to those juveniles who had been convicted of murder. Since that time few states have reformed their sentencing policies or addressed those who have been sentenced under those unconstitutional sentencing policies.
It seems that these landmark decisions have only laid the groundwork for arguments on the state level concerning retroactivity, what constitutes a cruel sentence, what is a reasonable sentence for juvenile offenders and how/what juvenile justice practices need to change.
A recent New York Times article lays out all the discussion very well and covers the arguments from every angle. (you can read here) Juveniles Facing Lifelong Terms. The discussion between legislators, DA's and defence attorney's continues with the same rhetoric that was prominent before the rulings. District attorney's vow that they stand for justice and that the juvenile offenders serving these long and cruel sentences are deserving and will never be anything more than a criminal. Legislators are fearful of making any change because of the fate of their political careers. Defence attorney's continue to push cases through the appellate court system setting legal precedence for change and then find that the battle continues. It seems, however, that the American public has begun to change their views, at least as you read through the first dozen or so comments.
However, we can argue all day long, the facts remain and cannot be denied. Juvenile offenders are not accountable for their actions in the same way that adults are held responsible. Why? The facts speak for themselves. We, as a society, do not hold them capable of making decisions that affect their lives and their futures. We know that they have psychological differences and can be rehabilitated. We know, by virtue of our highest court and by virtue of our own wisdom, that life sentences and de-facto life sentences are cruel. We know that the last 30 years of juvenile justice policies and practices have been an open wound on the arm of our national human rights. WE KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPREME COURT MEANT AND THAT THESE RULINGS APPLY RETROACTIVELY.
So why is it taking so long for states to make changes? Politics. It is not the concern for human rights, it is not acting justly, it is not for the betterment of our communities or our country....it is politics.
The only way that these changes will come is if we, the people of this nation, stand up and say that we want to be known for something other than cruelty, vengeance and over-zealous punishment. We need to take a look at the facts, the truth, we have the largest prison population per capita of any other developed nation and we treat our juveniles with the harshest of consequences. That is called brutality.....not justice.
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