If many people in Minneapolis think about the things they did as teenagers, they can likely point to a few stupid mistakes they wish they could change. While many of these mistakes may be relatively minor, some teenagers make much more serious mistakes, some as serious as murder. Across the country there are 2,500 people who are serving life sentences for committing murder as children, and this figure is causing many people to question whether juveniles should be sentenced to life without parole.
It is undeniable that Minnesota residents who commit murder should be punished, but to send a child to prison for the rest of his or her life without any opportunity to rehabilitate and get a second chance is a matter of contention. The United States Supreme Court has even weighed in, saying that it is an unconstitutional violation of a suspect’s Eighth Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment to have mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles. What the widespread effects of that ruling will be remains to be seen.
One of the biggest arguments supporting reformation of sentencing for juvenile offenders is the fact that teenagers’ brains are not full formed. This means that someone who commits a murder while a teenager or younger may have a higher chance of rehabilitation than an someone who commits a murder as an adult. With the proper education, assistance and punishment, a juvenile offender may be able to emerge from prison as a law-abiding member of society.
There are some juvenile offenders who have not received life sentences, but the sentence is so long that it is essentially a life sentence. These “de facto” life sentences are just as bad as actual life sentences because it is clear that the judge never meant for the juvenile offender to be released from prison. One state has ruled these kinds of de facto sentences to be unconstitutional.
As for Minnesota juvenile offenders, it is unclear if any changes will mean that they will have the possibility of parole any time soon.
Source: Detroit Free Press, “Many question life sentences for juveniles,” Paul Elias, Aug. 19, 2012
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