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.
Until a few years ago many states in this nation had laws in place that allowed juvenile offender cases to be transferred to adult court without judicial review. In many states it was possible to transfer a juvenile case to adult court simply based on the decision of the prosecuting attorney. There was no judicial review of the case, the circumstances or the likelihood of conviction. Do not pass go, do not collect 100.00 but go directly to an adult jail and await criminal prosecution.
There have been many flaws with this system. First and foremost there was no consideration given to the age or culpability of the young offender. Secondly, most juveniles and their parents have never been involved with the criminal justice system and therefore, in the early stages of the juveniles arrest, were unprepared to give proper guidance and protection to the young offender. Thirdly, the adult criminal justice system requires that a juvenile offender be held in county jails while they await trial. These county jails are not designed to accommodate young offenders, keeping them safe from harm, continuing their education and providing them with the support systems for their health and protection.
Thanks to the hard work of organizations like the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition laws that allow for the transfer of juveniles into adult prisons have been challenged and amended. In addition the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition is working diligently to change laws to allow for legal representation of juveniles at the very beginning of an investigation to ensure that the juvenile and his/her parents are informed and aware of the criminal justice process and the youthful offender is protected.
National organizations such as the Equal Justice Initiative, Campaign For Youth Justice and others, continue to inform the public on the cost and impact of the laws that have thrown away kids in the adult prison system.
Thank you for your tireless efforts....may we see the day when we once again value the life of a kid and the opportunity we have to transform that life to something positive and productive.
Here is an excerpt from a recent editorial and the link to read the entire article:
The Washington Post Opinions
"Yet, the report notes, citing figures that are a few years old, there are some “100,000 youth who are placed in adult jails and prisons each year.” When minors are thrown into adult jails and prisons, often simply to await trial, they don’t get the structure and educational opportunities necessary for growth or rehabilitation. They are also extremely vulnerable to harm. “More than any other group of incarcerated persons,” a federal panel reported in 2009, “youth incarcerated with adults are probably at the highest risk for sexual abuse.”
As America struggles with the national budget and the national debt, lawmakers look for ways to cut expenses. As states have been hit with natural disasters, bulging budgets and anemic education and social programs, theses states look for ways to better use state funds. Looming on the horizon is another health care and budget crisis....caring for aging inmates who have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The federal government has begun reviewing and changing sentencing practices to reduce the number of people who serve long prison sentences for non-violent crimes. States have begun changing mandatory sentencing policies and reviewing their state guidelines regarding the treatment and incarceration of juvenile offenders in order to reduce the cost of incarceration in their states. Most have not taken on the hard topic of life without parole or even virtual life sentences (those sentences that are the equivalent to life).
Juvenile Justice advocates across the nation have been working tirelessly to undo the draconian policies and sentencing practices for juvenile offenders. Recent Supreme Court rulings have found LWOP sentences for juveniles to be cruel and unusual punishment yet the young men and women who have been condemned under these kinds of sentences are still serving time. In addition to the 2500 or so young people serving life without the possibility of parole there are thousands more (estimated to be over 10,000) who are serving sentences of 40, 60 or 100 plus year sentences. These sentences are also cruel and unusual. A 15 year old boy who receives a sentence of 60 years for a violent crime in the state of Colorado must serve 75% of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. That means a 15 year old boy must serve 45 years (3 times his current age) before he is eligible for parole at the age of 60! That is correct. A boy that is sentenced to an adult prison at the age of 15 will be 60 years old before he is eligible for parole. A boy that has never held a job, never had a drivers licence or rented an apartment, had a bank account or voted. What constitutes a violent crime? Robbery, assault or even being the accomplice in a violent crime but not responsible for any violent act.
These sentences have been handed out without discretion over the last 20 years during our war on crime and war on our youth. Our tough on crime policies have hit our youth the hardest. These young people have been the victim of over zealous, politically minded district attorneys who make a name for themselves on the backs of our youth. Our indiscriminate crime policies have taken thousands of youth and condemned them to grow up and develop behind prison walls. We have stood by and allowed it to happen.
Across the nation are thousands of men and women who will spend most of their productive lives behind prison doors. Is this productive? Is this necessary? Is this cost effective? We are finally realizing that it is not. But what about those already condemned by these laws? What are we going to do about them? Can we, in good conscience, leave them to rot in these places, killing their hope and their humanity? I hope not. Only time will tell.
According to recent research and reporting presented by The Sentencing Project, we have seen a dramatic increase in the use of Life Without Parole sentences in the United States since 1984. Old and young alike destined to languish and die in our prisons. What a legacy to leave for our generation. You can read "LIFE GOES ON:THE HISTORIC RISE IN LIFE SENTENCES IN AMERICA"
WE NEED TO BE THE CHANGE AND FIND A BETTER WAY! Rehabilitation....not long term incarceration creates a better world for everyone!
It has long been understood by advocates that juveniles who commit serious crimes have suffered traumatic events in their lives. Many of the juveniles who have committed violent acts are products of physically and sexually abusive homes, homes where they have witnessed the abuse of a parent, or they have been the victim of crime or criminal acts or been raised in violent communities. We know this because we have met and spoken with the inmates themselves. I can tell you from personal experience that I have not met a single individual inmate that came from a perfectly normal household with a loving family who has been convicted of a violent crime. That doesn't mean that they do not exist. There are other individuals who are guilty of violent crime that suffer from mental illness. In almost every case in which a child kills a parent or parents, there is a history of abuse or severe mental illness. The cases of Jacob Ind and Nathan Yabanez are perfect examples. While child protection authorities were notified numerous times concerning these two young men, nothing was ever done to end the abuse in their homes. Our own systems and authorities failed to protect these children and keep them from harm. I know of young men who have reacted with protective violence when their mother was being beaten by her husband. I know of young people who have grown up in foster homes because of family tragedies and those foster homes were abusive. The violence that these children endured, the stories that I have heard and the deep pain and sadness in these young peoples eyes have left me in grief and terror. They have suffered things, seen things that no child should ever experience.
The prison system and those responsible for the care and rehabilitation of female inmates understand that the majority of those women have suffered some sort of trauma or abuse. It is finally being researched and recorded that men have suffered these same traumatic events and abuses as well. To me and those who come from the religious community or from the behavioral science community it is an obvious assumption. We don't believe or assume that a person is just "bad" or violent by nature. We know that human beings and especially children are impacted by their environments, their circumstance and events in their lives. Much research and attention has been given to the high rate of post traumatic stress disorder in returning military veterans and the violent incidences that occur after they return home. Veterans are given information concerning warning signs so that they will seek help for PTSD but often that help is given too late.
With all this information you would think we would be compelled to reevaluate the way we treat and rehabilitate violent and addicted inmates. The prison system has never even thought to look at the why only carry out punishment and condemnation. The Center for Behavioral Health Services and Criminal Justice Research at Rutgers University in New Jersey recently released a report concerning the rates of traumatic events in male inmates. "Eighty-five percent reported being a victim of a crime-related event, such as robbery or home invasion. More than three quarters of the men had been physically or sexually abused.State Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said at first he almost didn’t believe the figures. "When I saw the numbers and I saw the prevalence of trauma overall, I was just blown away," he said. "I couldn’t believe that so many, such a high percentage of our offenders — so I called her up and said, are you sure about these numbers?"
If the goal of prison is to correct the behavior of the inmate so that he/she returns to be a contributing member of our communities then we have to stop thinking of these individuals as "criminals" and start looking at them as human beings. These inmates are people....wounded, misguided, abused people who see themselves as failures. It is up to us to instruct them and guide them to a better life. It is our job to take care of the widow, the poor and the fatherless, to teach and train young men and women in the way they should go and to help our brothers/sisters to find the path to a good life. We can't lock them in a little room, away from family, community, education and treatment and expect to have things turn out differently when they come home. Prison is supposed to be a time out. Not a lifestyle.
In the United States prisons operate with very limited oversight and the oversight that is in place has little authority or impact. Prisons operate without accountability and because of this America has some of the most egregious conditions in the western world.
We are the only nation in the world that sentences juveniles to life without parole. In the process of justice in these cases, juveniles are held in county jails in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. Maybe even years. Once they are sentenced as adults to serve these sentences they are transferred to adult prisons and once again held in solitary confinement. No sun light, no human contact, no mental stimulation and no hope.
Aside from this kind of torture in our prisons, there are many other abuses that happen everyday in our systems. Women are intimidated and bullied and raped. Men are beaten, hosed, and raped. The mentally ill are tortured for fun...just to watch them freak out. I know that it seems impossible and maybe an over exaggeration but I assure you that it is not. I know of groups of men who have been "set-up" during their workout time where a fight broke out. The entire gym was locked down, every inmate ordered on his face. Every inmate strip searched to record any marks, bruises or scrapes and then ordered to their cells. The inmate who were involved in the fight were never disciplined. Forty five men were held in solitary lock down for 2 weeks without a disciplinary write up, taken to a hearing without knowledge of the charges or time to prepare. The guard reports from the night of the incident were not presented and when the inmates demanded to see them they were told that they were not available. When all was said and done, everyone of those inmates was transferred to a supermax facility. The reason? These forty five men had stood up against the changes that were being made inside the prison that were abusive and degrading. Prison guards and th warden were creating a prison guard posse who's sole job was to threaten and intimidate and harass inmates and remove isolate them if they spoke up. Retaliation is an ever present threat in American prisons and inmates learn that you take your beating in silence. These issues and issues like them were brought to the attention of the Director of Corrections, the Governor and state representatives. Nothing changed.
In the United States, reporters must request permission to enter a facility and must have prearranged, stated business with a specific individual under the watchful eyes of prison guards and staff members. The public cannot enter into a facility unless they are part of a group or organization that has been previously screened and approved. Legislators may visit a prison facility after calling and making an appointment. In other words there are never any surprise visits. Everything is carefully planned and staged. I have toured prison facilities, solitary confinement pods and facilities and have volunteered with organizations inside facilities. Every time I have been screened, approved and our tours were carefully orchestrated and guided. The guards were not allowed to speak with us and only provided guidance. The wardens and program managers gave very scripted responses to inquiries and we were ushered out with the assurance that everything was wonderful in "prison world".
There are other nations who are much more vigilant in their prison oversight. It does not mean that abuse in prisons is eliminated, it means that when it happens someone will have to answer for it.
Our prisons house addicts, mentally ill, poor, illiterate, crafty, creative, and yes, mean people. They will not transform into anything else if we put them in abusive, isolated punishment colonies of hopelessness. If we want to stop spending billions of dollars on prisons every year, we are going to have to order the doors of oversight open and make sure that they are first given the most basic ingredient for change.....humane treatment.
As the community of America that holds our government responsible to uphold the tenants of human rights we demand oversight.....and positive lasting change.
To see an example of prison oversight please follow this link and read an article by Solitary Watch: Oversight in British Prisons
The season is coming when advocates and legislators will begin battling and debating about sentencing reform, retroactive sentencing changes and reducing incarceration rates in America. It is a long suffering battle. One that has HUMAN consequences. While men and woman are confined in holding pens, bound in chains, held in dark seclusion, being fed scraps that should be for dogs.....advocates and legislators debate their future. Their lives are so removed from that which they debate, they go home to families, having freedom to move about, having a hope and a plan for their future and free to embrace and challenge the world with their ambition.
Those held in prisons hold none of that hope, even when the chains are loosed, even when the prison doors are opened and they pass to the other side of the razor wire, they are still prisoners. Their past mistakes are the one chain that is never removed from their ankle, the weight they carry with them forever. We don't want them to forget, we can't let them forget that they failed once. We don't want them to forget that they wronged the world that they are trying to be a part of, leaving them forever ostracized.
Yet there is hope, one small ray at a time pushing through the cracks of cement walls. In Iowa this past week the Supreme Court of that state ruled that juvenile life without parole was unconstitutional and that the mandatory sentence of 60 years imposed on JLWOP offenders was unconstitutional as well because it was equivalent to life. When the US Supreme Court rulings came down stating that JLWOP for juvenile who HAD and HAD NOT committed murder were illegal, Iowa's governor quickly responded by passing a law converting all JLWOP sentences to mandatory sentences of 60 years. A travesty and one that has been thankfully overturned. This is a landmark decision and one that will be a standard by which other states will measure their move toward juvenile justice and sentencing reform. Desmoines Register
But it is slow, painful work. Work that seems unending yet we press on. There are many new advocacy organizations being formed and from the most unlikely places like Greece. The world is watching America and they are measuring us by the same rod that we have measured them and guess what? We aren't faring so well. We have been found merciless, draconian and vengeful. To treat children and youth the way we do shows a lack of moral character. Still the clock ticks on as we debate and the children get older and the youth age and hope fades. How long will you defend your condemning ways America and proclaim yourself morally righteous? Fight for the redemption of youth......not their condemnation.
NO MORE ADULT SENTENCES FOR YOUTH!!!!
A slide show of the last 12 years....while Jonny and I and his sister wait.....surely someday....someday they will be free.
Another great video from AWKWARD about police violence and prison....so if you won't take our word for it how about giving HIM a listen. Has the story.....STOP BUILDING PRISONS. Stop filling them with our brothers, sons and fathers.
A new film documentary will be premiered in Washing DC later this month that focused on both sides of the dialogue concerning life and virtual life prison sentences for juvenile offenders. This film takes an objective viewpoint of this topic and then leaves you with the question....Could You Forgive?
As a minister and person of strong convictions, I have witnessed the devastation that comes on all who are involved. The offender, the victim, the victim's family, the offenders family, their communities and even the officers of the court. There is no "winning" in these situations. That is why I have always been a proponent of restorative justice. Yes juvenile offenders should be accountable for their actions and the cost of those actions but they are not beyond rehabilitation or redemption....they are just kids who take miscalculated risks, who cannot think through the reasoning of cause and effect and are easily persuaded. I also know that a victim of crime who cannot come to terms with the loss can become bitter, angry and vengeful which effects health, families, relationships and jobs. So I work and hope for healing....otherwise we as a society will continue to degrade into hopelessness, despair and anguish. Join the conversation, join the movement towards healing and restoration. If we will do that for a park or an animal, can we not do it for the broken?
Lost For Life By Joshua Rofe'
Lost for Life, a new film from director Joshua Rofé, produced by Ted Leonsis, Rick Allen, Mark Jonathan Harris (director of three Academy Award-winning films) and Peter Landesman, is a searing documentary about individuals who have been sentenced to life without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles. The film tackles this contentious issue from multiple perspectives and explores the complexity of the lives of the affected individuals. Lost for Life refuses to give easy answers, but prompts many questions, and forces us to consider what we mean by justice, punishment, mercy, redemption and forgiveness.
And this conversation is vitally important. As many of you know, on June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court issued an historic ruling in the companion cases of Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama, holding that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, because the Court made no specific recommendations concerning how those serving automatic life-without-parole sentences would be resentenced, relief has been hard to divine. For example, in an apparent attempt to circumvent Miller, a number of Governors have indicated their intention to replace mandatory life-without-parole sentences with mandatory prison terms of 65 or 70 years.
Despite the recent Supreme Court decisions, most people are unaware of how we treat juveniles who have been convicted of serious crimes. While this difficult topic is easy to ignore, justice can only be based on common societal answers to key moral questions. For this reason, Lost for Life is an essential film. It is our responsibility to determine the standards of decency for our society. After watching this film, that responsibility becomes impossible to ignore.
We hope that you will join us at the premiere and in raising the profile of this incredibly important issue. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion on the issue moderated by Professor Steven H. Goldblatt, Director of the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown University Law Center. For more information and promotional materials for the film, please visit http://www.snagfilms.com/lostforlife.
Not a head line that we are used to seeing and maybe we wouldn't believe it even if we did. For a nation that stands for the civil rights of all people, the need to protect animals, water, trees, bugs and old buildings.....we FAIL when it comes to our children. We fail miserably! At the end of this article will be a video of children and Richard Ross (photo journalist on conditions in juvenile detention in America) in solitary confinement.
It was the hope of many juvenile justice advocates, attorneys and families, to see drastic reductions in sentences for those juveniles sentenced as adults and serving time in adult prisons. So far this has not been the case. yes, laws have changed in many states and sentencing structures have changed. On average sentences have gone from life without the possibility of parole to 25 years to life. SERIOUSLY?!?! The first opportunity these young people will receive is at 20 years. Take a fifteen year old youth with that kind of sentence and he will have served more time in prison that he had been alive at the time of the crime. He will have been educated and matured in prison which is destructive not reformative.
Where are our moral values? Why do we give more protection and attention to animal abuse then we do to the welfare, education and rehabilitation of young people? Why do we care more about the health and treatment of waters, parks and trees than we do our youth? Why are we not paying attention?
Have you looked into the eyes of these young people? They have endured pain, suffering, abuse and neglect. They have been raised in harsh places with insurmountable odds and given no survival tools that insures their future success. Are they not worth our time and attention? Aren't they our future? How can any human being with any kind of compassion and understanding of the need for conservation, renewal and human rights, stand by knowing that this happens to children everyday?
This nation is the laughing stock among civilized nations. We point our fingers at their misdeeds concerning Human Rights and they thumb their noses at us......knowing that we don't really care or we would take care of our own house first. It's just lip service....we don't care about our kids.....not in this nation.
Not much to add to this message. Think your tough? Think your bad and that you are makin' a rep? Think your boys will be loyal to you? I have a son doing 68 years and his FRIEND? He killed three people and he got 60 years cuz he fingered as many as he could as he was goin' down. Didn't even have to tell the truth, didn't even have to make sense....he just gave the man what he asked for. Now my son is payin' for something he didn't do....just trusted the wrong boy and lost his freedom for it.
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