Thursday, May 07, 2009


Political Mayhem Thursday: Life Without Parole for Kids

Right now, the majority of states and the federal government now allow a juvenile to be sentenced to life without parole. This issue is now getting more public attention, as it should, since the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases (Graham and Sullivan) which challenge the constitutionality of such a sentence.

I'm against LWOP for the same reasons I am against mandatory (or mandatory-ish) sentencing guidelines and the death penalty despite my generally pro-prosecution leanings: I think there needs to some measure of mercy in any sentencing system, and that redemption must always be a possibility.

Almost 60% of the juveniles who receive life without parole are first-time offenders, and many are in prison for crimes short of murder. Interestingly, the only other country which hasn't signed a convention outlawing such sentences is Somalia. So, it's us and the pirates...

Is life without parole for a kid defensible?

No, it's not defensible.
This seems like a pretty clear case. I'd love to hear the argument for it. it can only be, in my mind, built from a fundamentally punitive society. Swissgirl's comment performs the fundamental simplicity of this issue.

If we accept the Liberal project -- that humans are born with the potential to function as free and autonomous subject, and that the function of a nation and a society is to develop in its citizens that capacity -- then minors cannot be treated the same as adults. When adults act outside the accepted bounds of what society deems as a norm, they are rehabilitated or removed. Children must be given the opportunity to be rehabilitated. They still have potential.

If they are psychological disabled for some reason, treat that, fine; but that's very different.

No, it's simply not defensible in any way. I might actually bother to read Scalia's dissent on this one (I'm optimistic, perhaps falsely.) Maybe he'll find as poor an analogy as his "beastiality is like homosexuality."
This is an issue Texas may actually get right (or close to right). Let's cross our fingers:
In Florida we sentenced (I don't think we do this anymore) youthful offenders to life without parole. The most famous case was Lionel Tate (read about him on Wikipedia).
If I remember the sentence was overturned after pleas from the public.

In his case, he has returned to jail numerous times. I believe he is the exception to the rule.
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