Teen Decision First Step

By Gary “Malachi” Scott

The U.S. Supreme Court took a step in the right direction when it outlawed mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole for children below age 18. The Miller v. Alabama decision invites a look at other types of cases that would sentence juveniles to die in prison of old age.

The Miller decision lessens the possibility that some juveniles will be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The court held “that the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.”

The decision emphasized that children should be treated differently – they and their brains are immature. That same recognition applies to children who also get life with the possibility of parole.

The difference is minimal between juvenile offenders sentenced to such terms as 60 years to life with the possibility of parole, and life without the possibility of parole.

It is essential that juvenile offenders who have extremely long sentences have a sentencing review. Because men’s average life expectancy is about 70 years or so, sentencing youth offenders to 50 to 60 years is almost sentencing them to die in prison.

Even if such an offender is paroled at an advanced age, he or she will have health, employment, housing, and adjustment concerns.

The argument with reference to juvenile immaturity in Miller was derived from the 2005 decision, Roper v. Simmons.

Roper says, “Psychology and brain science continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds,” making their actions “less likely to be evidence of ‘irretrievably depraved character’ than are the actions of adults.”

Because youth offenders’ actions are “less likely to be evidence of ‘irretrievably depraved character,” rehabilitation and a reasonable chance of parole at an age that they can be successively reintegrated back in society should be the goal for all juveniles sentenced as adults.

—For more on this topic, see the June 5 “Room for Debate” at www.nytimes.com.


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