Tuesday, November 10, 2009

13 and Life

From NPR:

Is it unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment to send a juvenile away to prison for life, without the possibility of parole for a crime that does not involve a death? That's the question the Supreme Court ponders Monday. . . .

Joe Sullivan was 13 years old when he was convicted of raping a 72-year-old woman. Two older defendants who had broken into the woman's house with Joe fingered their younger accomplice for the rape, and they got lesser sentences. Joe had a long record of misdemeanors, from stealing a bike to burglary. This, however, was his first felony, and the judge, declaring that the boy before him was "beyond help," sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

Terrance Graham was 16 when he pleaded guilty to attempted robbery of a restaurant in which one of his accomplices hit the restaurant manager over the head with a steel pipe. Graham served one year in jail, then was released on probation. Six months later he was arrested fleeing the scene of an armed home invasion robbery.

The judge revoked his probation, but rejected the four-year prison sentence recommended by the Department of Corrections and instead sentenced Graham, by then 17, to life in prison without parole. "If I can't do anything to help you," said the judge, "then I have to . . . protect the community from your actions."

If you know anything about adolescent development or if you ascribe any authority to Christian teaching in Scripture, you must conclude that locking up teenagers for life without the possibility for parole is unjust and indefensible. Yet, as this NPR piece reveals, there are plenty of people in positions of authority who defend this practice. That's infuriating.


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