Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Throw-away lives

I am not often, but I was indeed shocked to learn that the US condemns 185 times as many juveniles to life sentences without the possibility of parole as the rest of the world combined. According to a new study by New York-based Human Rights Watch:

NEW YORK (AP) -- At least 2,225 juvenile offenders are serving life sentences without parole in the United States, compared to a total of 12 elsewhere in the world, two leading human rights groups said in urging the U.S. government to abolish a practice that violates international law.

And we're talking about people who committed their crimes as young as age 13.

And while the crimes committed were typically horrid, in many cases the youthful offender was committed under "felony murder" rules:
Under that charge [felony murder], anyone involved in a crime during which a death results is guilty of murder, regardless of whether they committed the killing. As a result, some juvenile offenders are being jailed for life simply for being present at the crime scene. [Note and emphasis mine-CK]

Now to be clear, I am certainly not advocating that youthful offenders who commit horrific crimes not be severely punished, but how can you put a teenager as young as 13 in jail for life, without ANY hope of parole?

And, as further demonstration that racism is still far from being a thing of the past, the vast majority of these disposable lives are black, the rate being 10 times higher than it is for whites.

And also, typically, such incarcerations are a relatively recent phenomenon based on fear:
Such sentences were relatively rare up through the 1980s. But in the early 1990s, the imposition of the sentence spiked sharply, a surge largely linked to states responding to the public's concern over juvenile "superpredators" -- teens with long and violent criminal histories, the report said.

Parker dismissed those fears as a "myth," saying the study found many of the youth offenders serving life without parole did not have criminal records as long or as violent as many believed. The study found an estimated 59 percent were sentenced to life without parole for their first criminal offense. [Emphasis mine-CK]

To me this story represents both a tragedy and a warning, that we must all beware when we allow ourselves to let our decisions be ruled by fear.

You can, and should, contact your congressional representatives here.

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