Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Life Without Parole: It's not just for adults!

A CNN headline grabbed my attention this morning: "Teens locked up for life without a second chance."

According to the Equal Justice Initiative, there are currently 73 persons serving live without parole (LWOP) sentences in the US for crimes that were committed when the offenders were only 13 or 14. I know I am a broken record on this issue, but this is just wrong. The headline just says it all. We are allowing 13 year-olds to be thrown behind bars with no hope for ever getting out, no chance for rehabilitation or redemption. It's nuts.

I know of hardened murderers, grown adults who intentionally shot people in the head, who at least have a hope of sleeping in a real bed again someday.

The lead story in the CNN piece presents a very different kind of "murder". A 14 year-old boy was engaging in silly, dangerous, horseplay with his 17 year-old step-brother. It began with blow darts and ended with the 17 year-old having been stabbed by a knife twice. Obviously incredibly stupid and reckless behavior, maybe even intentional in the end, but a far cry from the sort of premeditated, intentional homicide that usually results in a LWOP sentence. And certainly it is a prime case for at least holding out the hope that the offending boy (14!) can still become a productive member of society.

What does it say about us as a society that we are willing to treat kids like this? Nothing good. 13 and 14 year-olds are not adults. They're idiots. We all know this because we were all 13 once. We don't let kids do all sorts of things because we know they can't really appreciate or handle the consequences. We know they have terrible judgment and no ability to see the long-term. Drinking, smoking, sex, voting, movies, entering contracts. We know they would make bad choices, choices they would one day regret, so we just take the choices away from them. How can we reconcile all of that with allowing for kids so young to be sentenced to prison for the rest of their natural lives, with no chance for anything else? We can't. It's ludicrous.

Of course some teens need to be punished, even imprisoned, for their actions. I'd probably go for a lot shorter detention or prison terms for teenagers than most people (big surprise), but can't we at least all agree that there's no harm in at least leaving open the possibility that a 13 year-old defendant might one day live outside a prison? I'm not asking the crazy, over-the-top, tough on crime crowd to give up too much. All I'm asking (in this particular post) is that we do away with Life Without Parole for 13 and 14 year-olds. That's really not asking a lot.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Ludicrous is right. I don't know what's wrong with the law-and-order types, the everyone-must-be-held-accountable types. I think they're missing something in their makeup.

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