American Exception - Teen Lifers w/o Parole

Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by Principessa, Oct 16, 2007.

  1. Principessa

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    Lifers as Teenagers, Now Seeking Second Chance
    By ADAM LIPTAK
    American Exception

    Without Parole

    This is the first in an occasional series of articles that will examine commonplace aspects of the American justice system that are actually unique in the world.

    BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In December, the United Nations took up a resolution calling for the abolition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for children and young teenagers. The vote was 185 to 1, with the United States the lone dissenter.

    Indeed, the United States stands alone in the world in convicting young adolescents as adults and sentencing them to live out their lives in prison. According to a new report, there are 73 Americans serving such sentences for crimes they committed at 13 or 14.

    Mary Nalls, an 81-year-old retired social worker here, has some thoughts about the matter. Her granddaughter Ashley Jones was 14 when she helped her boyfriend kill her grandfather and aunt — Mrs. Nalls’s husband and daughter — by stabbing and shooting them and then setting them on fire. Ms. Jones also tried to kill her 10-year-old sister.

    Mrs. Nalls, who was badly injured in the rampage, showed a visitor to her home a white scar on her forehead, a reminder of the burns that put her into a coma for 30 days. She had also been shot in the shoulder and stabbed in the chest.
    “I forgot,” she said later. “They stabbed me in the jaw, too.”
    But Mrs. Nalls thinks her granddaughter, now 22, deserves the possibility of a second chance.

    “I believe that she should have gotten 15 or 20 years,” Mrs. Nalls said. “If children are under age, sometimes they’re not responsible for what they do.”

    The group that plans to release the report on Oct. 17, the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Ala., is one of several human rights organizations that say states should be required to review sentences of juvenile offenders as the decades go by, looking for cases where parole might be warranted.

    But prosecutors and victims’ rights groups say there are crimes so terrible and people so dangerous that only life sentences without the possibility of release are a fit moral and practical response.

    “I don’t think every 14-year-old who killed someone deserves life without parole,” said Laura Poston, who prosecuted Ms. Jones. “But Ashley planned to kill four people. I don’t think there is a conscience in Ashley, and I certainly think she is a threat to do something similar.”

    Specialists in comparative law acknowledge that there have been occasions when young murderers who would have served life terms in the United States were released from prison in Europe and went on to kill again. But comparing legal systems is difficult, in part because the United States is a more violent society and in part because many other nations imprison relatively few people and often only for repeat violent offenses.

    “I know of no systematic studies of comparative recidivism rates,” said James Q. Whitman, who teaches comparative criminal law at Yale. “I believe there are recidivism problems in countries like Germany and France, since those are countries that ordinarily incarcerate only dangerous offenders. But at some point they let them out and bad things can happen.”

    The differences in the two approaches, legal experts said, are rooted in politics and culture. The European systems emphasize rehabilitation, while the American one stresses individual responsibility and punishment.

    Corrections professionals and criminologists here and abroad tend to agree that violent crime is usually a young person’s activity, suggesting that eventual parole could be considered in most cases. But the American legal system is more responsive to popular concerns about crime and attitudes about punishment, while justice systems abroad tend to be administered by career civil servants rather than elected legislators, prosecutors and judges.

    In its sentencing of juveniles, as in many other areas, the legal system in the United States goes it alone. American law is, by international standards, a series of innovations and exceptions. From the central role played by juries in civil cases to the election of judges to punitive damages to the disproportionate number of people in prison, the United States is an island in the sea of international law.

    And the very issue of whether American judges should ever take account of foreign law is hotly disputed. At the hearings on their Supreme Court nominations, both John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. said they thought it a mistake to consider foreign law in constitutional cases.

    But the international consensus against life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders may nonetheless help Ms. Jones. In about a dozen cases recently filed around the country on behalf of 13- and 14-year-olds sentenced to life in prison, lawyers for the inmates relied on a 2005 Supreme Court decision that banned the execution of people who committed crimes when they were younger than 18.

    That decision, Roper v. Simmons, was based in part on international law. Noting that the United States was the only nation in the world to sanction the juvenile death penalty, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said it was appropriate to look to “the laws of other countries and to international authorities as instructive” in interpreting the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

    He added that teenagers were different from older criminals — less mature, more susceptible to peer pressure and more likely to change for the better. Those findings, lawyers for the juvenile lifers say, should apply to their clients, too.

    “Thirteen- and 14-year-old children should not be condemned to death in prison because there is always hope for a child,” said Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, which represents Ms. Jones and several other juvenile lifers.

    The 2005 death penalty ruling applied to 72 death-row inmates, almost precisely the same number as the 73 prisoners serving life without parole for crimes committed at 13 or 14.

    The Supreme Court did not abolish the juvenile death penalty in a single stroke. The 2005 decision followed one in 1988 that held the death penalty unconstitutional for those who had committed crimes under 16.

    Remainder of article can be viewed here.
     
  2. B_Think_Kink

    B_Think_Kink New Member

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    Interesting indeed. Death penalty for children.... what in the fuck!
     
  3. Principessa

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    These children have committed horribly heinous crimes. I don't understand how any right thinking person could believe these people can be rehabilitated based solely on their age.

    Apparently the United States has more of these incorrigible cretins than any other country.
     
  4. IntoxicatingToxin

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    I can understand how people believe that. There is scientific proof out there that until a person is AROUND 25 years of age, they don't have as much of an understanding about consequences...

    Let me just quote something from my Psychology book. It's a bit long.

    "Frontal lobe development during adolescence also includes the growth of myelin, the fatty tissue around axons that speed neurotransmitters. This frontal lobe maturation lags the emotional limbic system. The pubertal hormonal surge and limbic system development helps explain teens' occasional impulsiveness, risky behaviors, emotional storms - slamming doors and turning up the music. With frontal lobe maturation during the teens and early twenties comes improved judgment, impulse control, and the ability to plan for the long term. When university students choose immediate rewards, fMRI scans show their limbic system activating; when electing a bigger delayed reward, a part of the calculating frontal lobe area more strongly activates. No wonder younger teens (whose unfinished frontal lobes aren't yet fully equipped for making long-term plans and curbing impulses) so often succumb to the lure of smoking, which most adult smokers could tell them they will later regret. So, when Junior drives recklessly and academically self-destructs, should his parents reassure themselves that "he can't help it; his frontal cortex isn't yet fully grown"? They can at least take hope: The brain with which Junior begins his teens differs from the brain with which he will end his teens, and which will continue maturing until about age 25. In 2004, the American Psychological Association joined seven other medical and mental health associations in filing U.S. Supreme Court briefs, arguing against the death penalty for 16- and 17- year olds. The briefs documented the teen brain's immaturity "in areas that bear upon adolescent decision-making." Teens are "less guilty by reason of adolescence," suggested psychologist Laurence Steinberg and law professor Elizabeth Scott (2003). In 2005, by a 5-4 margin, the Court concurred, declaring juvenile death penalties unconstitutional."
     
  5. Principessa

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    As an educator who has seen a lot, I can tell you some children are just a bad seed.
     
  6. Mr. Snakey

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    Yes the laws have changed because the children are commiting murder in record numbers. Im all for it. What i would really like to see is if a minor commits murder. The parents should do some time and pay heavy fines
     
  7. IntoxicatingToxin

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    Personally, I don't think there is such thing as a bad seed. Children are products of their environments. Anyone recognize the name Father Flanagan? He is the guy who started boys town. His basis for starting it was that he didn't believe there were such things as bad boys. They just didn't know what to do with themselves. When kids were sentenced with crimes, they would often be sent to live with Father Flanagan as opposed to being put on probation or being placed in a correctional facility. He did wonders for those boys. Kids went from living on the streets as petty thieves and brawlers to starting huge companies and raising good families. My father and his two brothers were raised in Boys Town. They are all amazing men.
     
  8. Principessa

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    I almost said that a major part of the problem is parents who coddle their children and don't teach them the basics of life.

    Every time there is a school shooting it's the same story. He was a loner, had few or no friends, was often picked on by other kids; and in some cases even beat up. Sounds to me like that kid needed therapy but no one noticed or cared enough to do anything.

    The most current excuse for teen murderers, "she dumped me."
    WTF!?!? You're 15 did you really think it was gonna be forever?:confused::eek: Christ Almighty! Eat some Haagen Dazs, have a good cry and get over it.

    Sometimes the parents really are competent; but the kids are just f'ed up.



     
  9. B_Think_Kink

    B_Think_Kink New Member

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    I think your horribly wrong. I think most people can be rehabilitated.
     
  10. IntoxicatingToxin

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    Well, the kids are f'ed up for a reason, and I have a hard time believing that they were born that way. And yes, when you are 15, it can feel like forever. I was committed to a mental health ward for suicidal thoughts and cutting my arms with razor blades when I was 16. My mom was the best mother a person could ask for. She didn't know I needed therapy. Was it from neglect or lack of attention? Nope... it ws because I didn't want her to know. I acted. She wasn't incompetent... and I am no longer depressed or suicidal. There's a lot more to it than that.
     
  11. B_Think_Kink

    B_Think_Kink New Member

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    Nature vs. Nurture :)
     
  12. B_NineInchCock_160IQ

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    A child has to be tried as an adult to get a life sentence or receive the death penalty. That means they have to have committed a particularly heinous crime. It seems unfortunate that a 13 year old could have their whole life thrown away when they aren't old enough to legally drive, vote, drink, consent to sex, serve in the military, i.e. make decisions for themselves. At the same time, allowing any 17 year old cold-blooded murderer to spend a year in juvenile detention and then have a clean record also seems insane.

    This should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

    Also, what does the UN mean by "young teenagers?" Did they give the magical cut-off number? Is there something less arbitrary about 16 than there is about 18?
     
  13. frizzle

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    Age is irrelavant in issues like these. Break law, do the time. I agree with Think_Kink though, rehabilitation and not punishment. Captial punishment for the more serious crimes.
     
  14. AlteredEgo

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    I'm with you! Those don't count as children. Those are inhuman monsters. Let 'em rot. I don't believe in the death penalty, but I sure do believe in life sentences.
     
  15. B_Swimming Lad

    B_Swimming Lad New Member

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    These people who go on about children having special rights are retards. In my opinion, in breaking the law you go against society and so, wave goodbye to any rights you may have as a law abiding citizen. It makes no differecnce wether you are 12 or 40; you broke the law, you take the punishment.
     
  16. SpoiledPrincess

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    The kids that Father Flanagan took into boy's town weren't murderers, that was a long time ago and most of those kids had committed petty crimes.

    I agree fully with nj, a child of 8 or 9 is fully aware of the ramifications of his actions but I think they quite often feel that they're going to get away with it just because they're kids, kids are quite aware of what they see in the newspapers and on tv and see kids their own age get off with a slap on the wrist after committing terrible crimes. The child might have had a terrible childhood, it might have had incompetent parents but there are children who manage to grow up without committing a single crime and turn into productive adults who've had these handicaps to get over.

    If they're going to commit 'adult' crimes then they deserve adult sentences, and while I think rehabilitation is one aspect of a jail sentence I feel the bigger point of prison is punishment and the visible carrying out of justice.
     
  17. HazelGod

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    Agreed. It's a completely nonsensical endeavor to attempt judgement of these offenders categorically...particularly with such an arbitrary and meaningless criterion as age.

    On the point of rehab...there are two issues in the way. First, as someone has pointed out, the US criminal justice system is not tooled for the task...our prisons are penal facilities first and foremost. Rehabilitative programs are an afterthought, when they even exist at all. Secondly, not all offenders are capable of rehabilitation. A significant number of muderers at any age are bona fide sociopaths. They understand perfectly the nature and consequence of their actions...they simply don't care. Such persons are virtually guaranteed to be recidivists, so releasing them at any time would be condemning another person in the society to a premature demise. True sociopaths are born, not made...and once identified (sadly, usually ex post facto), must necessarily be culled from the general society permanently. To remove this recourse from our justice system would itself be an injustice, particularly if the reason for doing so were something as baseless as the opinions of other nations.

    Considering the grievous nature that young offenders must be accused of in order to receive such sentencing, I would think many of those capable of rehabilitation are already spared. The fact that there are fewer than 100 such inmates derived from a population in excess of 300 million speaks to the rarity of this phenomenon.

    Of course, since we have so few of these felons and there are so many nations that disagree with such sentences, and since we have no intention of ever loosing them upon our citizenry again, perhaps some of these objector countries would be willing to take them into their own societies?
     
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