NYU's School of Law Dean Randy Hertz joins a growing list of legal scholars and youth advocates calling for an end to the practice of sentencing juveniles to life without the possibility of parole (JLWOP).
Writing in The Nation, Hertz explains:
In Roper v. Simmons, which ruled out the death penalty for under-age offenders in 2005, the Court reasoned that “juvenile offenders cannot with reliability be classified among the worst offenders” because they are less mature and their sense of responsibility has not fully developed. They are more vulnerable to negative internal and external influences, including peer pressure. Unlike adults, they can’t control or escape dysfunctional homes and dangerous neighborhoods—two major contributing factors to youth crime. They also have a greater chance for rehabilitation. Thus, as the Court said, “from a moral standpoint it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult.”
In 2010, the Court applied the same guiding logic in its decision in Graham v. Florida, concluding that children convicted of non-homicide crimes cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. As Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority, “Juveniles are more capable of change than are adults, and their actions are less likely to be evidence of ‘irretrievably depraved character’ than are the actions of adults.”
The recognition that children are different is supported by recent neuroscience and psychosocial studies that have shown adolescence to be a period of intense change in the brain. We now know that the parts of the brain that drive emotional reactions, impulses and reactivity to peers develop before those that control impulses and imagine consequences, and which enable adults to resist pressures, delay gratification and weigh risk and reward. Scientists who study the teenage brain describe it as akin to a car with a fully functioning gas pedal but no brakes.
The Sentencing Project recently released a report looking at the lives of teens sentenced to life without parole, in which they found that nearly 80% had experienced violence in their homes prior to committing their offense. In the Yale Undergraduate Law Review, Katherine Aragon takes a longer look at the legality of JLWOP and concludes that it's a grave mistake to continue with the practice. And finally, at TED 2012, Bryan Stevenson gave a compelling talk on the inherent injustice of sentencing teens to life without parole.
So, where do you stand? Are there any folks in favor of sentencing kids to life without parole who would like to join the discussion?
Liz Wu is a Digital Accounts Manager at Prichard Communications, where she oversees digital outreach for Reclaiming Futures and edits Reclaiming Futures Every Day. Before joining the Prichard team, Liz established the West Coast communications presence for the New America Foundation, where she managed all media relations, event planning and social media outreach for their 6 domestic policy programs. Liz received a B.A. in both Peace and Conflict Studies and German from the University of California at Berkeley. She tweets from @LizSF.
*Photo at top by Flickr user sfalko
Updated: February 08 2018