There are 2,500 young people currently serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in the United States—the only country in the world that has enforced the policy of life behind bars for those under 18. In recent years, the Supreme Court determined the policy of no parole to be unconstitutional for minors—calling it a cruel and unusual punishment.
The radio show, Spotlight on Youth, recently hosted a segment, “What is Fair? Examining Sentencing for Youth,” that discussed this policy among four unique guests:
- Naoka Carey, Executive Director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice
- Sharletta C. Evans, Founder of Red Cross Blue Shield Gang Prevention
- Jody Ken Lavy, Director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing for Youth
- Xavier McElrath-Bey, Clinical Field Interview at Northwestern Juvenile Project
While each guest had a different background, they all agreed on one main idea:
Young people are fundamentally different than adults, and the justice system should take this into account when sentencing those under 18.
Each guest provided their reasoning as to why the differences between young people and adults impact fair sentencing for youth in the criminal court. The agreed upon differences included that young people have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility; a significant capacity for change, allowing for a better chance at rehabilitation; little to no control over the environment in which they’re raised; and are less culpable than adults—more vulnerable and susceptible to peer pressure.
These insights come from those with personal experience in the justice system, providing an interesting perspective on the topic.
Guest host Xavier McElrath-Bey grew up in an atmosphere that led him down a destructive path; he was arrested 19 times and convicted 7 times at the age of 13. Xavier was sentenced in the adult court for 25 years in prison but was released after 13 years.
His experience in the criminal justice system left him with a desire to live a normal, productive life in which he could better the lives of other youth with similar pasts.
He is now a clinical field interviewer for a government-funded study that examines mental health needs of formerly incarcerated individuals with the goal of guiding future policy decisions and interventions for at-risk youth.
The guests all agreed that Xavier’s story is a testament to the potential for positive change in formerly incarcerated youth and serves as strong support for rehabilitation over life in jail for young people.
>> Listen to the segment in full on the Blog Talk Radio website.
Cecilia Bianco is the social and digital communications intern for Prichard Communications and Mac’s List. She contributes to the Reclaiming Futures blog regarding topics of juvenile justice reform and substance abuse prevention.
*Image at top from Creative Commons Flickr User Lynne Goodwin
Updated: February 08 2018