The rest of their lives

  

Question: How many children under the age of 18 have been convicted to life in prison without parole in Germany? Answer: 0 

Question: How many children under the age of 18 have been convicted to life in prison without parole in India? Answer: 0 

Question: How many children under the age of 18 have been convicted to life in prison without parole in South Africa? Answer: 0 

Question: How many children under the age of 18 have been convicted to life in prison without parole in The U.S.? Answer: 2,503 

There are at least 2,503 child offenders serving life without parole (LWOP) sentences in U.S. prisons for crimes committed before they were age 18. A joint report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch finds that while serious crimes by youth are decreasing, the percentage of children receiving LWOP sentences is increasing.  

UNITED STATES: 2,503 youth sentenced to LWOP 

REST OF THE WORLD: ZERO 

Let me introduce you to Sara.Sara Kruzan is serving life in prison without parole. Watch this six minute video to hear her story.Listen to her story in her own words:   

  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGL_p7BcJqk

 Children can and do commit terrible crimes. I am not saying they do not. And let me be clear, they should be held accountable for their crimes. Did you hear me?? They should be punished for their crimes and atone to society and their communities for some incredibly poor choices and bad behavior– but they also deserve a second chance.  

Let’s be clear: Young people are different than adults.  

Do you remember who you were at  age 10.. 13..15..or 17?  What did you like?  What did you believe in?  Who did you trust?  Who did you listen to? Yes I said 10 years old. In some states children as young as ten years of age can be sentenced to life without parole. It may be legal, but it cannot be just. Children who are too young to buy cigarettes legally, boys who may not have started to get facial hair, kids who still have stuffed animals on their beds, are tried as adults, and if convicted, receive adult prison sentences, including life.  

Fair sentencing for youth means recognizing that young people are different from adults and our courts and laws should treat them that way. Justice for youth means accountability with the chance to turn around.  

The ACLU says:  

 Despite popular thinking, a large portion of the people serving juvenile life without the possibility of parole (JLWOP) are not repeat offenders, nor have they been convicted of the most serious violent crimes. Nearly 60% of people serving JLWOP are first time offenders. More than one quarter of people serving JLWOP were convicted of “felony murder,” which means they were participants in an underlying crime which resulted in death. In other words, while these youth may have intended to commit some crime (for instance, robbing a store), they did not intend for anyone to be killed. Others sentenced to life without parole were convicted of crimes on a theory of accountability, which means that they were not the actual perpetrators of the crime. The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth is dedicated to seeking a just alternative to JLWOP that will hold juveniles accountable for their crimes while offering the opportunity to achieve parole before they die.  

Let me share a secret with you. I smoked cigarettes at  age 12…I know, I know…I stopped years ago, and I promise I will never smoke again. I also may have not made the BEST choices through the majority of my teenage years. What did you do as a teen that you now absolutely regret? I am sure you all were smarter than me but, peer pressure played a big part in some of my bad decisions including smoking. Children do not have adult levels of judgment, impulse control, or ability to assess risks. Group think rules…. sigh.  

There is widespread agreement among child development researchers that young people who commit crimes are more likely to reform their behavior and have a better chance at rehabilitation than adults. The Supreme Court agrees—In Roper v. Simmons the Court explained, “From a moral standpoint it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor’s character deficiencies will be reformed.” Youth deserve meaningful and periodic reviews of their life sentences, to ensure that those who can prove they have reformed are given an opportunity to re-enter society as contributing citizens.

Anyone that knows me will tell you that every time I say goodbye to my children as they go off to school, or the movies or just to hang with their friends I always say  two things:

  1. I love you
  2. Make good choices

I think  its so critical that they have this gentle reminder. Choices have consequences, and I do not want a choice made at 16  in the back seat of a car change their lives forever. When I was 12, when I was 13, when I was 22 I needed  second and third chances to get my life back on the right track. I just want  for those 2503 kids what I would want for my own.

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