NFL player Malcolm Jenkins wrote recently for NBCNews about juvenile life without parole. Here are excerpts: In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that life sentences without parole should only be given to juveniles in the rarest of circumstances. Last year, it ruled that those individuals currently serving life sentences without parole should have their cases reviewed. Currently, more than 2,100 people who were sentenced as children are eligible to have their sentences reviewed and earn a second chance. Approximately 300 of these people are from the city of Philadelphia alone.
In its decision, the Supreme Court said that juvenile life without parole, where kids are sentenced to literally die in prison, should only be given to teens found to be “irreparably corrupt.” But in reality, according to the Fair Punishment Project, the “irreparably corrupt” child is a myth. We have to stop locking up kids and throwing away the key. According to human rights groups, America is the only country that sentences kids to life without parole.
The infuriating irony here is that the kids who have received life without parole sentences are, in many ways, the young people who needed our help the most. According to study conducted by the Sentencing Project, 79% of this population witnessed violence in their homes growing up, 40% were enrolled in special education classes, nearly half experienced physical abuse, and three-quarters of the girls had experienced sexual abuse.
America failed them once. Today, these kids deserve a second chance. Contrary to the super-predator rhetoric utilized by politicians in the past to justify locking up kids for life, adolescents really are different from adults — in almost every way. Their brains are underdeveloped, they struggle with judgment, they are susceptible to peer pressure.
For too long, we have depicted our youth, especially our black youth, as fully developed adults who are a lost cause. But they can change. These are not the soulless “super-predators” the media scared its readers with in the 70s and 80s. These are children. Studies show that even those accused of the most serious crimes age out of crime.
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