Thousands of Offenders serving life in prison without parole are getting fresh attention after recent rulings by the United States Supreme Court overhauled America's philosophy of juvenile sentencing, wrote Marc Bookman of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation in Vice . Studies of developing brains have confirmed what every parent already knew: Children are prone to behaving recklessly and with very little thought to the consequences of their actions. Such studies, authored by leading medical and psychological experts and appearing in hundreds of legal opinions, have supported a new, less draconian approach to the incarceration of children.
In 2005, the US Supreme Court banned the death penalty for minors; in 2010, it ruled against mandatory life sentences for juveniles who committed non-homicide offenses; in 2012, it ruled against mandatory life sentences for juveniles under all circumstances; and this past January, it ruled that inmates already serving mandatory sentences should receive new sentencing hearings.
What this means, practically speaking, is that many young people who had previously been condemned to die in prison will now get a second look, and many will have a chance for freedom. The opportunity has prompted a retrospective examination of crimes that occurred decades ago, and of how these lost boys and girls have emerged from their years of incarceration.
The US Supreme Court barred the executions of 15-year-olds (in a 1988 case) and all minors in the landmark 2005 decision of Roper v. Simmons. That opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, directly addressed the fear expressed by some of other justices that children no longer fearing execution might suddenly begin committing murder at a higher rate. "[T]o the extent the juvenile death penalty might have residual deterrent effect, it is worth noting that the punishment of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is itself a severe sanction, in particular for a young person."
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