Teens Locked Up for Life Without a Second Chance Research Paper

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Criminal Justice

Juveniles who are Imprisoned for Life with No Parole

We live in a world where human beings of any age commit and are punished for menial to heinous crimes. In other words, humans at every stage of life are committing and being punished for crimes, including children and teenagers, called juveniles under the law until they reach adulthood. The paper will explore and debate the pros and cons of sentencing juveniles as LWOPs. The paper will reference recent and groundbreaking cases of juvenile crime and debatable sentencing. The paper aims to provide a modern context within which to examine and debate the use of life sentencing without parole for juvenile offenders. Ultimately, the paper concludes that LWOP for juveniles should, with great discrimination and in the rarest of cases, be used around the world, but before doing so, the stipulations for its use must be clearly stated and in order to be truly effective must be abided by all countries with penalty for breaking the code.

Juvenile crime is not new. Juveniles have committed crimes for as long as human history has endured. The subject of this paper is juveniles imprisoned for life. There are thousands of juveniles around the world, but mostly centered in the United States of America, who are currently serving life sentences for crimes they committed or were at least found guilty of. A great deal of the juveniles with life sentences are furthermore sentenced to prison without any hope or chance of parole. Throughout the paper, the acronym LWOP will be used to refer to prisoners who are serving Life Without Parole. This is a term developed in the study and practice of criminal justice.

In most, if not all, countries, there is a separate criminal justice system and practice specifically designed and designated for juvenile offenders. This is the juvenile justice system. Most juveniles, after found guilty of committing crimes, are put through the juvenile justice system. Many readers may be aware that the justice system and the legal system in general is much different regarding juveniles over adults. The same offences that are committed by juveniles and adults have variations in their penalties and sentences. An adult would likely receive a more severe punishment for armed robbery than an adolescent who committed the same crime.

There are some crimes that are so heinous and there are some disturbed personalities that are so ominous that there are cases when juveniles are tried and penalized in the exact same manner as an adult would with the same history and having committed the same crime.

In the first case (Miller v. Alabama), Evan Miller was 14 years old when he robbed and repeatedly beat an intoxicated neighbor with a baseball bat then set the man's trailer on fire and left him to die. The juvenile court, under state law, transferred Miller to adult court based on the nature of the crime, his previous delinquency history, and the fact that he was deemed competent to stand trial. Miller was found guilty of capital murder. Since he was 14 at the time of the crime, Miller was not eligible for capital punishment but rather Alabama's mandatory minimum sentence of LWOP. In the second case (Jackson v. Hobbs), Kuntrell Jackson was also 14 when he and two other teenagers attempted to rob a video store. Jackson knew one of his accomplices had a sawed-off shotgun and threatened the female store clerk before one of the other teenagers shot her in the face and killed her. Jackson was tried in adult court, where he was found guilty of capital murder and aggravated robbery and sentenced to LWOP under Arkansas state law. (Stimson and Garvey, Page 1)

The above cases are cases from the United States and were heard in courts as recently as the spring of 2012. These cases were brutal in of themselves, but seem even more heinous because they were committed by juveniles. The crimes were severe and mandated severe punishment. Herein lies an aspect of the central debate of LWOP juveniles: when it is all right to treat juveniles like adults and put them through the adult justice system?

The vast majority of juveniles who commit crimes are tried in the juvenile justice system. Every state has a separate juvenile justice system to deal with juvenile crimes. Those systems exist because American society believes that most teen criminals can be rehabilitated -- or at least should be given the opportunity to try to reform their ways. That is smart public policy. Thus, there is a national consensus that most juveniles belong in the juvenile justice system. But there is another national consensus: that a small percentage of the worst teen offenders -- a small percentage of teen murderers -- should be waived and/or tried in adult court. And a small percentage of those who are convicted of the worst crimes should be eligible for LWOP. (Stimson and Garvey, Page 2)

Thus there are two concentric circles of consensus regarding juvenile offenders and the use of the juvenile justice system. For the most part, the vast majority of countries in the world believe that life sentences in prison for juveniles is unacceptable and counterproductive to rehabilitation. At the same time, country authorities contend that juveniles that commit the most detestable crimes be subjected to the adult penal system including the use of LWOP. In this way, the debate about juvenile life sentencing is moderately similar to the debate about the death penalty -- which is that sometimes, the crime is so bad that the guilty party should be put to death, but the death penalty should not be perceived as a quick-fix, cure-all, or default option for punishment. This and in other ways, which the paper will explore, is how those who argue against the use of juvenile LWOP compare LWOP to death penalty.

Those in opposition to LWOP for juveniles in the United States often argue that the use of LWOP for juveniles is unconstitutional. They cite the 8th Amendment, which in summary is the guarantee of the freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. People on this side of the argument, which is growing in number and support over time, contend that LWOP is unconstitutional just as much as the death penalty for a juvenile would be. It is this line of argumentation the opposers of juvenile LWOP use to claim that LWOP is simply another form of the death penalty, but is essentially the same unconstitutional sentence.

…the Eighth Amendment also prohibits sentencing juveniles to life without parole because this sanction is a death sentence in its own right. A sentence of life without parole amounts to "death by incarceration" since offenders are sentenced to die in prison, making this sanction "our other death penalty." Our justice system should not subject juveniles to death by incarceration for the same reasons that the Court in Roper prohibited the use of death by execution with juveniles. It is well established and accepted by the Court that, as a class, juveniles are inherently immature, impulsive, and vulnerable to social pressure. Their characters are not fully formed, and hence the Court in Roper viewed them as capable of change, and deserving of the opportunity to change. These inherent attributes of adolescents reduce the culpability of juveniles and their susceptibility to deterrence, making a final and irrevocable sanction like death by incarceration fundamentally inappropriate. Moreover, death by incarceration, like death by execution, denies juveniles the opportunity to mature and earn forgiveness for their transgressions. (Johnson and Tabri, Page 2)

Juveniles literally are not as developed as adults. There is greater likelihood and probability for successful character rehabilitation for juveniles more so than adults. This is one reason why people argue against the use of LWOP for juveniles. They are not exactly arguing against the life sentence of prison. What they argue against is the systematic denial of the chance for parole. While an important lesson in life is to accept responsibility for one's choices, because juveniles are not fully developed, the law, the justice system, and the penalties for violating the law must take into consideration the crime, the individual, and the stage of development. Adults, by the time they reach adulthood, should know better and should at least have a much clearer understanding regarding consequences, responsibility, actions, and choices.

Juveniles should be afforded more flexible options regarding their sentencing because they are not fully developed adults and because they have so much potential (while there is no guarantee) to correct their deviant behaviors and make a real personal change. They do not stand that chance without the possibility to encounter the outside world while still developing into adults.

…juvenile offenders are inherently immature and irresponsible, but they often outgrow these characteristics in adulthood under normal social conditions. However, prisons do not promote -- and rarely even permit-this positive growth and maturation. Prisons are, by definition, settings of punishment, not forgiveness. A lifetime of prison, in other words, amounts…[continue]

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