The Crime Report issued it's second annual ”Top Ten” list. TCR asked readers, contributors and columnists to join in nominating the stories and issues they believe have had the most significant impact during 2012---and will bear watching over the next year.
THE 2012 TOP TEN
1. Supreme Court LWOP decision in Miller v Alabama: progress on Juvenile Justice
On June 24, 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that mandatory sentencing of offenders under 18 to Life Without Parole (LWOP) for certain major crimes such as murder violates Eighth Amendment prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment.
The decision “will have ramifications for years to come,” noted TCR essayist Matthew Mangino, noting that 39 states will now ‘need to amend their existing statutes for juveniles charged with first degree murder.”
And it capped a year of impressive and far-reaching progress in the area of juvenile justice, advancing what TCR contributor Barry Krisberg wrote this year was the “slow march to justice for children.”
Some of the most notable efforts include the closure of juvenile training schools and other youth detention facilities around the country, as authorities began a fundamental re-think of how they deal with juvenile offenders.
"The large congregate juvenile facility is a dinosaur,” Krisberg commented in a note to us, “as states increasingly move towards home-based care and the use of smaller facilities closer to home.”
Not coincidentally, “Close to Home” was the name of a landmark program launched by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2012, with bipartisan support, to create facilities for young offenders in their own communities rather than shipping them upstate—an innovative program which by its own merits would otherwise have earned special mention in the Top Ten.
Adding to the impact of the Court ruling and state actions, efforts to end such egregious practices as solitary confinement for young offenders and placement of youth in adult detention took a huge step forward during the year.
One example, cited by TCR contributor Liz Ryan of the Campaign for Youth Justice, a national advocacy group: the set of reforms instituted in Colorado to remove youths awaiting trial from adult jails and allowing judges discretion to decide whether to prosecute young people in adult courts.
Miller v Alabama, as The New York Times noted in a June editorial, underlined a "shift in how the U.S. judicial system views young felons—from irredeemable predators to victims of circumstance with a potential for rehabilitation.”
But it has also left plenty of tough issues to be settled in 2013. Most notably, what to do with the 2,100 persons currently serving life for crimes they committed as juveniles.
An even larger question, underscored by a story written by Daily Beast reporter Clark Merrefield, a 2012 John Jay/Tow Juvenile Justice Reporting fellow, is whether the judicial system can catch up with scientific findings about adolescent brain development.
To read the rest of The 2012 Top Ten click here