Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Human Rights: Should We Sentence Kids to Life Without Parole?

Source: Open Society Foundations
Should We Sentence Kids to Life Without Parole?
March 20, 2012 | by

"We're not saying that juvenile offenders who commit homicide can't be punished severely," said Brian Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in an NPR interview this morning, about two cases he will argue before the U.S. Supreme Court today. Stevenson will assert that a mandatory punishment of life without parole for a 14-year-old is cruel and unusual punishment.

Evan Miller and Kuntrell Jackson were both 14 when they were convicted to life imprisonment without parole in two separate murder cases. Both sentences were mandatory and did not permit any consideration of their age or adolescent status.

"They may even end up spending the rest of their lives in prison,” Stevenson continued. “But it's premature, excessive, and unfair to say we know this juvenile will never be rehabilitated."

A growing body of research shows that the regions of the adolescent brain that regulate impulses and emotions are not fully developed; this is one of the reasons why Stevenson and other advocates argue that children cannot be held to the same standards as adults when they commit crimes.

Bryan Stevenson is a member of the board of directors of U.S. Programs at the Open Society Foundations.