Thursday, October 29, 2009

Justices will scrutinize life sentences for youths

It did not take long for the judge to determine that the convicted rapist in front of him was irredeemable.

"He is beyond help," Judge Nicholas Geeker said of Joe Harris Sullivan. "I'm going to try to send him away for as long as I can."

And then Geeker sentenced Sullivan to life in prison without the possibility of parole. At the time, Sullivan was 13 years old.

Now, 20 years after that sentencing in a courtroom in Pensacola, Fla., the Supreme Court will consider whether Sullivan's prison term -- and what his supporters say is an only-in-America phenomenon of extreme sentences for juveniles -- violates the Constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Read more....

The U.S. has more juveniles serving life without parole than any place on the planet. We also treat juveniles as adults in an ever-widening net that has yet to produce little in the way of crime control, but has actually made matters worse. Juveniles in adult court and serving adult sentences tend not to receive the necessary treatment, are at higher risk of assault from inmates and staff, and have higher rates of recidivism.

It is time to end this failed public policy and reform the laws on juvenile waivers. Missouri has made good progress on this front. The U.S. Supreme Court should also rule that life without parole is cruel and unusual for all juveniles.

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