I’m a little late in “reporting” on this, but it’s worth pointing out. The esteemed Heritage Foundation has issued a new report/study/propaganda piece/Robert Ludlum laugh-a-thon titled “Adult Times for Adult Crimes: Life Without Parole for Juvenile Killers and Violent Teens”. That title is just as long and unwieldy as some of my titles, which tells you much about the substance (hint: it’s useless).
There’s so much rhetoric in this report that misses the point of not sentencing kids to life in prison that it makes my head spin (and as a by-product, makes the report very difficult to take seriously).
Life without parole for the very worst juvenile offenders is reasonable, constitutional, and (appropriately) rare. In response to the Western world’s worst juvenile crime problem, U.S. legislators have enacted commonsense measures to protect their citizens and hold these dangerous criminals accountable. Forty-three states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government have set the maximum punishment for juvenile offenders at life without the possibility of parole. By the numbers, support for its use is overwhelming. Nonetheless, its continued viability is at risk from misleading lobbying efforts in many states and court cases that seek to substitute international law for legislative judgments and constitutional text.
Emboldened by the Supreme Court’s Roper v. Simmons decision, which relied on the Eighth Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishments” language to prohibit capital sentences for juveniles, anti-incarceration activists have set about extending the result of Roper to life without parole.
If they succeed, an important tool of criminal punishment will be eliminated, and all criminal sentences could be subjected to second-guessing by judges, just as they are in capital punishment cases today.
Scott has fun with that last sentence, so I won’t go into it. Of course, there is nary a mention of the primary reason for eliminating LWOP for kids: their rate of brain development, their tender age and the elimination of any hope for someone so young. I’ve written about this before and anyone with a working knowledge of Google can find multiple studies that have found that adolescents’ brains are still developing into their late teens and early twenties. There is a callous disregard for the mental state of the kid and absolutely no quarter given to the notion that they may not have been able to fully appreciate the impact of their actions. In that sense, they’re treated the same as mentally challenged defendants.
This is not to say that because they’re “juveniles”, there should be no punishment, but there certainly should be serious thought given to a punishment that doesn’t give a kid the chance to atone for a mistake made decades ago, with a growing mind.
I’m not even going to touch any socio-economic factors here.
Oh, Heritage Foundation, if you’re going to issue such a report, at least make sure you check your grammar before unleashing it on the world.