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!
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