Last week State Supreme Courts and the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments calling for a clarification or legality of current criminal justice sentencing and parole practices. For some reason, state criminal justice systems refuse to change unless required to do so after a binding legal ruling. Why is this? Why is it that states argue and disagree about criminal justice reforms and treating those in conflict with the law fairly?
The United States Supreme Court has already handed down landmark rulings concerning the unconstitutional practice of juvenile life without parole, calling it cruel and unusual. The UN Committee on Torture agrees and has called the United States to account on it's continued use of this sentencing practice. The problem NOW is the application of this ruling retroactively. In other words states MAY agree that the sentence cannot be used going forward with new cases but refuse to address the individuals that have already been sentenced to life in prison. For me, that is very curious indeed. The cases that were heard in the Supreme Court involved individuals already sentenced and serving time in adult prisons. Surely this would mean that the ruling applied retroactively. Not so, Attorney General's offices and District Attorney's across the United States have been standing against sentencing reform policies proposed by state governments. Now states are asking the United States Supreme Court for help in settling this dispute. The case will settle, once and for all, the retroactive application of Miller.
In Colorado, reform of the Juvenile Life Without Parole sentence has been challenged and the Supreme Court Rulings have yet to be announced. In the meantime, advocates and attorneys have been working diligently to draft a reform bill that would bring Colorado into constitutional compliance with the US Supreme Court Rulings and also bring sweeping changes to the juvenile justice system. Their greatest opposition is from District Attorney's and legislators who are hesitant to take ANY stance on this issue. As a matter of fact Colorado legislators have been reluctant to address any but the most menial reforms to its criminal justice system.
In addition the Colorado Supreme Court has been asked to rule on the application of earned time and good time to sentences. The complex and often misinterpreted parole and sentencing guidelines in Colorado have been challenged several times but this will be the first time that the state supreme court will have the opportunity to address this issue. This ruling could affect the time served by every inmate in this state and release many inmates who have already served their required sentence.
All of this brings me back to the original questions. Why are state governments so reluctant to make these reforms on their own? Why do they not care that the criminal justice system is unconstitutional, overzealous or just plain broken? Why do they want to be forced to change? Maybe it's politics, maybe there is no one to step forward and lead the change, maybe they really don't care, maybe they have a vested interest in things remaining the same. Whatever the reason.......CHANGE IS INEVITABLE and THE PUBLIC is calling for it.
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