There has been a troubling shift in the nation’s responses to at-risk youth over the past 25 years. The creators of the juvenile justice system originally viewed it as a system for providing prevention, protection, and redirection to youth, but it is more common for juveniles today to experience tough sanctions and adult-type punishments instead. While reforms are underway in many places, there remains an urgent need to reframe our responses to juvenile delinquency.
Juvenile Justice News
March 10, 2014 (The Ledger)
Fate of 201 Youthful Offenders in Legal Limbo
The fate of 201 prisoners rests with the Florida Supreme Court and the state Legislature this spring.
Over the next few months, decisions by the state's highest court and lawmakers will determine whether these prisoners spend the rest of their lives in a prison cell or may one day be released.
The prisoners were involved in the most serious of crimes: murder. But they are different from others because they committed their crimes as teenagers — one as young as 13 and nearly three dozen only 14 or 15.
Research shows another troubling trend among the juveniles who were sentenced to life without parole for murder convictions — they are disproportionately African-American. Six of every 10 of these prisoners, or 59 percent, is black, compared to a 17 percent African-American population in Florida, or 22 percent of the under 18 population.
Nearly all are males, with only 11 women accounting for 5 percent of the juvenile prisoners.
What Florida's justices and state lawmakers must resolve is how to deal with juveniles who have received sentences declared unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012.
January 31, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
Race & Justice News
News: Racial Differences in New York City's Murder Clearance Rates
Research: Black Men Have Higher Cumulative Arrest Histories by Age 18
Black Drivers Targeted in Investigatory Traffic Stops
School Discipline: Departments of Education and Justice: "Racial Discrimination in School Discipline is a Real Problem"
Advocacy: Grading State Legislators on Racial Equity and Offering Resources to Public Defenders
Books: "This Is Not the First, nor the First Staggeringly Racialized, Prison Crisis"
January 30, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
New Reports: State Prison Closures, Sentencing Policy Reforms, 2013
The Sentencing Project released two reports that highlight states downsizing prison systems and adopting sentencing policy reforms. Our research documents a three-year trend of prison closings that produced a reduction of 35,000 beds, including six states reducing capacity by 11,000 beds in 2013.
January 3, 2014 (Medical Press)
New study to ensure justice for life prisoners across globe
In the first study of its kind, Professor Dirk Van Zyl Smit, an expert in penal law and life imprisonment at The University of Nottingham, said he and other researchers will examine life imprisonment on an international scale.
Life imprisonment worldwide: principles and practice has been funded with a grant of £222,000 from the Leverhulme Trust to look at life sentences for prisoners across the globe to ensure justice for life prisoners.
Van Zyl Smit said: "By understanding how life sentences are applied internationally, the researchers will be able to make recommendations and advice on when and how life sentences should be applied. This will ensure that even the worst offenders are treated justly.
January 3, 2014 (Gannnettnet.com)
Ending mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles is the right thing to do
An editorial praised Massachusetts for taking “a humane step forward last week when the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled sentences of life in prison without a chance for parole for juveniles convicted of murder are unconstitutional.
“The state’s highest court’s decision goes further than the U.S. Supreme Court’s similar 2012 ruling. In its 5-4 decision last year, the Supreme Court said automatically sentencing people under age 18 to life without parole violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
“In Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court declared unconstitutional both mandatory and discretionary sentences for life without parole for juveniles. In other words, according to the SJC decision, under no circumstances will a juvenile in a state court be given a sentence of life without parole. That ruling is retroactive.
“Simply put, because the brain of a juvenile is not fully developed, either structurally or functionally, by the age of 18, a judge cannot find with confidence that a particular offender, at that point in time, is irretrievably depraved,” the court wrote. “Therefore, it follows that the judge cannot ascertain, with any reasonable degree of certainty, whether imposition of this most severe punishment is warranted.”