Think about when you were 14, 15 or even 18 years old. You may have been the jock, the smartypants, the nerd, the weirdo, the hot chick, the best friend or home schooled. Think about the worst thing you did those years.
Now imagine that the worst thing you did – if it was legal – was deemed inappropriate by society. Inappropriate to the tune of 20 years in jail or 30 years or 40 or 60. Or just remember that time you bullied someone or you stole a lipstick or you made fun of a teacher or you took your dad’s car and went for a joyride or you made up stories about that girl because she wouldn’t make out with you.
Now, thinking about yourself, do you cringe? Have you spent time over the years wondering who that kid was and being glad that you’re not that anymore? Have you spent any time thinking “boy, I was a douche back then, but I’ve grown and changed?”
We all have. The only difference is that some of us are stuck in jail for extremely long sentences for things we did when we were barely out of middle school. CT mandates that all children above the age of fourteen, charged with serious felonies, are automatically treated as adults and exposed to adult sentences, ranging from maximums of 20 years to 60 years. And there are about 170 people who are currently serving such sentences for things they did between 14-17.
Basically, the bill does this: it makes all people sentenced when they were between 14 and 17 eligible for parole consideration after they’ve served 60% of their sentence, but only if the sentence is 20 years or greater. Almost all of these crimes are currently not eligible for parole or eligible for parole at 85% of their sentences.
So why this different, lower requirement for children? Because they’re children. Because they’d have served longer in prison than their adult counterparts and because their brains aren’t as developed when they’re 14-17, making them less culpable. As the United States Supreme Court said in Miller v. Alabama:
Because juveniles have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform, we explained, “they are less deserving of the most severe punishments.” Graham, 560 U.S., at ___, 130 S.Ct., at 2026. Those cases relied on three significant gaps between juveniles and adults. First, children have a “`lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility,'” leading to recklessness, impulsivity, and heedless risk-taking. Roper, 543 U.S., at 569, 125 S.Ct. 1183. Second, children “are more vulnerable … to negative influences and outside pressures,” including from their family and peers; they have limited “contro[l] over their own environment” and lack the ability to extricate themselves from horrific, crime-producing settings. Ibid. And third, a child’s character is not as “well formed” as an adult’s; his traits are “less fixed” and his actions less likely to be “evidence of irretrievabl[e] deprav[ity].” Id., at 570, 125 S.Ct. 1183.
And this lengthiest possible incarceration is an “especially harsh punishment for a juvenile,” because he will almost inevitably serve “more years and a greater percentage of his life in prison than an adult offender.” Graham, 560 U.S., at ___, 130 S.Ct., at 2028. The penalty when imposed on a teenager, as compared with an older person, is therefore “the same … in name only.” Id., at ___, 130 S.Ct., at 2028.
So when that 14 year old child is sitting in a jail cell, 30 years later at the age of 44, someone can bring him out and say: are we punishing the same person? Have you changed? Can we let you out now? Can we treat our children at least somewhat like the children they are when they commit crimes?
Or are we that intellectually bereft of nuance that the minute we say the word criminal, we lose sight of all context and character and instead stick blindly to our fear and desire for homogeneity in understanding the other?
“Many members are concerned about appearing to be soft on crime,” [State Senator Eric Coleman] said.
Don’t you think we oughta check in on them just once, after we’ve left our kids locked up and warehoused for over a decade or two, to see and say ‘hey, have you learned your lesson yet’?
Or do you leave your kids in permanent time-out?