Thursday, December 25, 2008

New Citizens for Juvenile Justice (CFJJ) Juvenile Life Without Parole Fact Sheet

Below is a link to the December 2008 Citizens for Juvenile Justice Fact Sheet regarding the subject of juvenile life without parole sentences. Please review the document and circulate widely throughout the country to your contacts.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

US: Michigan Moves to End Life Without Parole for Juveniles

Senate Committee Should Approve Historic Bills Passed by House

December 9, 2008

(Washington, DC) - Michigan's Senate Judiciary Committee should approve four bills abolishing life sentences without parole for juveniles in the state, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the committee. The practice is cruel, inappropriate, discriminatory, and a violation of human rights, Human Rights Watch said.

"Michigan has 321 young offenders sentenced to die in prison," said Alison Parker, deputy director of the US Program of Human Rights Watch. "Last week, the House rejected the notion that juveniles are beyond redemption. If these bills pass the Senate, they may be able to earn a chance at freedom."

On December 4, Michigan's 110-seat House of Representatives voted to pass the bills, by margins ranging from 12 to 61 votes, and the bills now move to the Senate. Michigan joins California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Nebraska, and the federal government in taking steps toward ending the sentence of life without parole for offenders under age 18.

In a 2008 update to a series of reports on the sentencing of youth to life without parole, Human Rights Watch reported that Michigan's population of youth serving the sentence is the third-highest in the country, just behind Louisiana and Pennsylvania. There are no youth serving the sentence in the rest of the world.

"Michigan and certain other states in the United States stand alone in locking up kids and throwing away the key," Parker said. "Not a single other country in the world incarcerates offenders under 18 for life without providing them some chance of demonstrating rehabilitation and remorse."

In its letter, Human Rights Watch noted that both brain science research and the 2005 Supreme Court case of Roper v. Simmons recognize that some child offenders have the capacity to turn their lives around even after committing a heinous crime. Acknowledging the suffering of victims and their families because of youth crime, the letter points out that many youth serving life without parole did not physically commit the crime for which they were sentenced. Nearly half of youth sentenced to life without parole surveyed in Michigan were sentenced for aiding and abetting or for an unplanned killing in the course of a felony.

Human Rights Watch also highlighted the racial disparities in sentencing. In Michigan, black youth are serving life without parole at a per capita rate 10 times higher than that of white youth.

Two UN oversight and enforcement bodies, the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, have found that the practice of sentencing juveniles to life without parole violates US human rights treaty obligations.


Click here to view or download the PDF version of the letter written by Human Rights Watch to the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Narcissistic Sovereignty" Has Kept U.S. from Ratifying U.N. Treaty on Children’s Rights

By Penny Starr, Senior Staff Writer
Monday, November 24, 2008

Washington, D.C. ( – Advocates for a United Nations treaty on children’s rights blamed American arrogance for it not being ratified by the United States, but critics charge signing onto the Convention on the Rights of the Child could mean international law trumping U.S. state and federal laws and the rights of parents to make decisions about raising and educating their children.

The treaty, adopted by the United Nations on Nov. 20, 1989, has been ratified by 193 countries. The United States and Somalia are the two countries that have not ratified it, groups that support ratification said at a press conference at the Capitol on Thursday.

“It might sound dismissive, but I think it has something to do with what I would call, and some other people call, narcissistic sovereignty,” Harold Cook, a non-governmental organization representative at the U.N. and a fellow with the American Psychological Association, told

But critics say national self-determination is at the heart of why the treaty should not be ratified.

“This would be one of the most invasive things we could do as far as the sovereignty of our nation,” Michael Smith, president of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, told

Smith said that if Congress ratifies the treaty, it would give the United Nations authority to object to federal and state laws that it thinks violate the treaty and give Congress the power to pass laws to make the country comply with its tenants – a fact advocates do not deny.

“Every national government in the world, except the United States, has developed in response to the Convention of the Rights of the Child official detailed national reports on how children are fairing in their country,” Howard Davidson, director of the American Bar Association Center for Children and the Law, said at the press conference.

“And child protection and advocacy watchdog groups have been able to react to those reports by doing their own shadow reporting to the international committee on the rights of the child,” Davidson added.

But Austin Ruse, president of the conservative United Nations watchdog group Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, told that the conventions reflect a worldview that rejects the idea of sovereign nations.

“They no longer want independent nations deciding what to do, but good citizens in a new international order,” Ruse said.

Ruse said that the very idea of children’s rights is “problematic,” because it sees children as having rights apart from their parents.

“It separates parents from their children,” Ruse told “The rights of children can only be seen in the context of the rights and responsibilities of the parents.”

Panelists at the news conference portrayed the convention as a way to help children in the United States whose needs are not being met, including every child having access to health care, good nutrition and safe living conditions.

“The convention’s articles on non-discrimination and adequate standard of living charge us to seek out exactly those children, families, and communities that live on the margins of society and design equitable policies that meet their needs,” said Dr. Jennifer Kasper, who represented the American Academy of Pediatrics at the press conference.

“It states explicitly that nations must not only actively protect children from discrimination, but they also must refrain from actions that may have a discrimination effect on some children.”

Ruse said the United States does not need to be regulated by those he describes as “radicals” on the U.N. committees that oversee such treaties.

“U.S. laws for protecting children are the best in the world,” Ruse said, “and we don’t need a treaty to help us.”

He also said Cook’s remarks about narcissism are a “smear” on the United States and show how his and other groups advocating ratification of the treaty want to promote a liberal global agenda.

“It’s a power grab, pure and simple, by radicals like him,” Ruse said.

Smith said the most dangerous thing about the convention is that rather than building stronger families, it could damage relationships by giving children “rights” to question their parents’ decisions on a range of issues, including discipline, religious training and education.

“It pits children against their parents,” Smith said.

When asked about the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the campaign trail, President-elect Barack Obama expressed a willingness to consider sending the treaty to Congress for ratification.

“It is embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land,” Obama said. “I will review this.”

Groups at the press conference expressed optimism about the new administration, including Meg Gardinier, acting chairwoman of the Campaign for the U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“We are very excited to think we are finally in a moment in time when the U.S. might very well join that ratification process and we can join the other 193 countries who are currently using this important rights treaty as a pivotal guide to improve the child’s survival, protection and development,” Gardinier said.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Anita D. Colón Before the Pennsylvania State Senate Judiciary Committee

As requested by State Senator Steward Greenleaf
Monday, September 22, 2008, 9:30 AM
In Hearing Room #1, North Office Building, Harrisburg, PA
Juveniles Sentenced to Life without Parole in Pennsylvania

Good morning Senator Greenleaf and Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. My name is Anita Colón. I am the sister of Robert Holbrook, a man currently serving a life sentence in Pennsylvania for a crime he was convicted of participating in at the age of 16. First, I would like to thank you, Senator Greenleaf, for holding this hearing on the issue of sentencing juveniles to life without the possibility of parole in Pennsylvania and allowing me to testify before you today. I praise both your concern about this issue as well as your willingness to step forward to address it.

My brother Robert was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for a crime that occurred on his sixteenth birthday. That day, lured by the promise of $500 made by a neighborhood drug dealer, Robert agreed to serve as a lookout for four adult males for what he thought was going to be a simple drug deal. My brother soon found himself in the midst of a robbery of a drug dealer’s young wife inside her home. Although he desperately wanted to run once he realized what was happening, he was terrified of the drug dealer that had ordered him to stay, and oblivious to the consequences that would await him if he remained.

As a result of that terrible night, an innocent young woman lost her life and my brother’s freedom was taken away forever. As with the majority of juvenile offenders charged in a murder case, attempts to have the case transferred back to juvenile court were denied. Having no prior experience with the court system, my brother accepted his attorney’s advice and pled guilty to murder generally. This attorney had told us that if he did not do this, the D.A. would seek the death penalty for all involved.

Despite Robert’s age and the fact that he did not participate in the actual murder of this woman, the judge convicted of him of first degree murder for aiding and abetting in the crime and due to the mandatory sentencing laws in Pennsylvania, he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. At the sentencing, the judge stated that my brother had most certainly been the least culpable of the offenders, but that the law did not permit him to use discretion in his sentencing. That was 18 years ago. My brother is now 34 years old. While his friends continued high school, got their drivers licenses, went on to college, got married and now have children, he sits confined to a cell. Most of his early years were spent in isolation, separated from the adult offenders.

My brother’s conviction and incarceration was devastating to my family, especially my mother. My mother wrote to her son in prison each and every day right up until the end of her life four years ago. At that time she was diagnosed with Cancer and within months she passed away. Robert was not even able to attend her funeral because the Department of Corrections had stopped allowing the transportation of lifers to attend funerals, even when their parents die.

In spite of the lack of hope afforded him, my brother has refused to give up on his life. While in prison, he obtained his GED, completed a paralegal course, and became an avid reader and writer. He has had several articles published and works closely with many human rights organizations fighting against injustice and unfair sentencing such as his. Whereas I believe that my brother did deserve to be punished for what he did, I know that he does not deserve to spend the rest of his life, what could turn out to be 60, 70, even 80 years in prison, for one horrible choice he made at barely 16.

Although my initial concern over juveniles sentenced to life without the possibility of parole came as a result of my brother’s conviction, after truly researching this human rights issue, I became an advocate for juvenile justice, and I stand before you today on behalf of all 450 juveniles currently sentenced to die in prison in Pennsylvania.

I feel it is also important to note that I am not only a family member of a juvenile offender but that my family has also experienced senseless tragedy and victimization due to violent crime yet still I advocate for second chances for offenders. As a society we must begin to seek justice as opposed to vengeance and a thirst for revenge and keep in mind that it is not the job of the Criminal Justice System to exact revenge, it is to seek justice.

Much of the background on this serious human rights issue we are addressing today may have been said already, but I feel it is important to highlight several points. The United States is currently the only country in the world known to have children sentenced to and serving life without the possibility of parole. This alone screams that there is something wrong with this policy. The District Attorney’s Office claims that only the worst child offenders are sentenced to life without parole, and only in exceptional circumstances, but that is simply not true.

Here in Pennsylvania, over 50 percent of the prisoners serving life without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles were first time offenders, never having been convicted of a previous crime. And 26 percent were convicted of JLWOP because they participated in a crime that led to a murder but did not themselves kill anyone. In most of the cases, these sentences were a result of mandatory sentencing currently in place for adults convicted of murder.

The U.S. Supreme Court made the distinction between the culpability of juvenile offenders and adult offenders when it abolished the death penalty for juvenile offenders in 2005. Citing both clinical and academic research, they acknowledged that adolescents are immature, incapable of clear adult decision making, and prone to peer pressure. Using this same logic, it is time that Pennsylvania sets the stage for our country, and abolishes life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders.

Our laws do not allow juveniles to assume the same responsibilities as adults (such as driving, voting, drinking, or joining the military) because we know that they are not mature or mentally developed enough to make these decisions about or control these actions. Yet, we hold these same children as accountable as adults when it comes to crime.

Finally, JLWOP, like most forms of unusually harsh punishment, does not serve as a deterrent. FBI Statistics show that from 1994-2004 the number of juveniles arrested for murder rose by over 24%. Research studies have shown that juvenile offenders are more susceptible to rehabilitation and treatment than adult offenders. These children are not beyond redemption, but currently they are without hope. We imprison children for the rest of their lives, without any hope of rehabilitation or re-entry into society and call it justice. Well, I call it inhumane.

While I acknowledge that here in Pennsylvania, especially Philadelphia, those fighting crime face daunting challenges, the answer is not to throw away the lives of our children forever. The fact that a child commits a crime does not negate the fact that they are still a child.

Please understand that I am in no way suggesting that you open the prison gates and free everyone that was incarcerated as a juvenile. Instead, I only ask that you afford them the prospect, not guarantee, of parole after a reasonable period of incarceration. I find it ironic that heinous mass murderers such as Charles Manson are regularly provided the opportunity for parole, yet thousands of children whose crimes could never begin to compare to theirs are not.

These juvenile offenders should be given a second chance, a chance to prove that an extremely poor choice made during adolescence does not have to define who they are or who can become as an adult within society. Senator Greenleaf, Committee members, I implore you to do just that.

Again, thank you for allowing me to testify here today.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Testimony of Elizabeth Calvin, Children’s Rights Advocate, in Support of H.R. 4300 the “Juvenile Justice Accountability

House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security

September 17, 2008

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, thank you for holding this hearing and for inviting me to testify on the important topic of the sentencing of youth who were below the age of 18 at the time of their offenses to life without the possibility of parole. I am here to testify in support of legislation that would end this practice in the United States and provide meaningful access to parole hearings or other review for youth offenders serving this sentence.

The decision to sentence a juvenile to life without the possibility of parole is a decision to sentence that young person to die in prison. There is no time off for good behavior, no opportunity to prove that you have become a different person, responded with remorse and chosen paths of rehabilitation. Next to the death penalty, there is no harsher condemnation, no clearer judgment by our criminal courts that this is a life to be thrown away. The federal government and 39 states sentence under-18 offenders to life without the possibility of parole.

In the US we believe that people under the age of 21 lack the judgment needed to drink alcohol responsibly; that those below 18 are too immature to understand the implications of signing a contract; and that someone younger than 16 cannot assess the risks and consequences inherent in driving a car. Yet, in this country we have also decided that children as young as 13 are mature enough to be sentenced to die in prison.

The United States stands alone in its imposition of this sentence on children. In the US there are currently more than 2,484 people who were convicted of crimes committed as children and sentenced to life without parole. There is not a single individual serving this sentence in the rest of the world.

The Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act of 2007 would allow states and the federal government to ensure that young offenders receive serious punishments to hold them accountable for actions that have caused enormous suffering to victims and their families. H.R. 4300 would, however, also provide youth—who are different from adults in their capacity to change—with an incentive to work towards rehabilitation in prison. Access to a parole hearing or another form of meaningful review is not a “get out of jail free” card. It is a chance to earn one’s release from prison through rehabilitation. Parole hearings would assess a youth offender’s rehabilitation, and they would also provide a necessary opportunity for victims and their families to be heard.

Through in-depth statistical and legal research, in-person interviews with youth, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, lawmakers and victims, Human Rights Watch has investigated the use of life without parole for youth throughout the United States since 2004. We have found that not only is the US now the sole country imposing this sentence on children, but the sentence is also imposed unfairly and disproportionately upon racial and ethnic minorities. Based on our research, we support the passage of H.R. 4300 for three main reasons. The use of this sentence for juveniles is frequently disproportionate, racially discriminatory, and a violation of international law.

One example of the disproportionate use of the sentence is the case of Sara K. Sara was raised by her mother who was addicted to drugs and abusive. She was 16 years old at the time of her crime. At age 11 Sara met “G.G.,” a 31-year-old man. Soon after, he sexually assaulted Sara and began grooming her to become a prostitute. At age 13, Sara began working as a prostitute for G.G. He continued sexually assaulting Sara and using her as a prostitute for almost three years. Shortly after turning 16, Sara shot and killed G.G. She was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

It is not just the facts of individual cases that show the disproportionate use of this sentence. There are more systemic problems. The sentence of life without parole was created for the worst criminal offenders. But we have found that life without parole is not reserved for juveniles who commit the worst crimes or who show signs of being irredeemable criminals. For example, this sentence is routinely used with young people who have never before been in trouble with the law. Human Rights Watch found that nationally an estimated 59 percent of youth sentenced to life without parole are first-time offenders. They had no prior juvenile or criminal record whatsoever—not even a shoplifting conviction. [1]

Additionally, our research found that these young people often acted under the influence or at times specific direction of adults when they committed their crimes. For example, in California, in an estimated 70 percent of cases in which a teen was acting with codefendants, at least one codefendant was an adult. [2] Even more disturbing, however, is that in an estimated 56 percent of cases with adult codefendants, the adult received a lower sentence than the youth who is now serving life without parole. [3]

Also troubling is the fact that often youth sentenced to life without parole were not the primary actors in the crime: they did not pull the trigger; they did not physically commit the crime. Nearly half of youth sentenced to life without parole surveyed in Michigan were sentenced for aiding and abetting or an unplanned murder in the course of a felony. [4] Thirty-three percent of youth sentenced to life without parole whose cases we investigated in Colorado had convictions based on the felony murder rule. [5] In 45 percent of California cases surveyed, youth sentenced to life without parole had not actually committed a murder and were convicted for their role in aiding and abetting or participating in a felony. [6] These are all cases in which someone else was the primary actor. A significant number of these cases involved an attempted crime gone awry—a tragically botched robbery attempt, for example—rather than premeditated murder.

We also have serious concerns that racial discrimination and disparities plague the sentencing of youth to life without parole throughout the United States. On average across the country, black youth are serving life without parole at a per capita rate that is 10 times that of white youth. Many states have racial disparities that are far greater. Among the 26 states with five or more youth offenders serving life without parole for which we have race data, the highest black-to-white ratios are in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and California, where black youth are between 18 and 48 times more likely to be serving a sentence of life without parole than white youth. [7]

Poor legal assistance afforded to many teen defendants appears to further compromise just outcomes. Some of those Human Rights Watch interviewed or surveyed described a level of legal representation that falls well below professional norms. In California, one of the most salient errors reported to Human Rights Watch is attorneys’ failure to adequately represent youth offenders at the sentencing hearing. In 46 percent of cases, respondents reported that their attorney failed to argue for a lower sentence.

We support H.R. 4300 because it is sound public policy. Lawmakers do not face a choice between being “soft on crime” and supporting life without parole for teen offenders. Lawmakers can protect community safety, save on incarceration costs, and save youth from a lifetime in prison.

Proponents of life without parole believe the sentence is necessary in order to ensure retribution—that society metes out the worst punishment for the worst offenses. However, while teens can commit the same acts as adults, by virtue of their immaturity they are not as blameworthy or culpable. Recent developments in neuroscience have found that teens do not have adults’ developed abilities to think, to weigh consequences, to make sound decisions, to control their impulses, and to resist group pressures; their brains are anatomically different, still evolving into the brains of adults. These findings suggest that sentencing laws should be revised to ensure that youth offenders are not sentenced as if they were adults.

Supporters of the life without parole sentence also claim that teens who pause to consider the consequences before committing crimes will be deterred if they face harsh sentences such as life in prison without parole. But young people are less likely than adults to pause before acting, and when they do, research has failed to show that the threat of adult punishment deters them from crime. Deterrence is also unlikely given research showing that adolescents cannot really grasp the true significance of the sentence.

Some proponents claim that incapacitation justifies the use of life without parole sentences. No one can deny that life without parole makes some contribution to public safety to the extent that locking up youth offenders prevents them from committing additional crimes. It is undeniable, however, that many youth offenders can be rehabilitated and become productive members of society. The need to incapacitate a particular offender ends once he or she has been rehabilitated. There is no basis for believing that all or even most of the teens who receive life without parole sentences would otherwise have engaged in a life of crime. Our research indicates that many teens received life without parole for their first offense. There is little in their histories to warrant the assumption that they would not mature and be rehabilitated if they were spared a lifetime in prison.

Finally, we support H.R. 4300 because the US practice of sentencing youth to life without parole violates international law. International law prohibits life without parole sentences for those who commit their crimes before the age of 18, a prohibition that is universally applied outside of the United States. Oversight and enforcement bodies for two treaties to which the United States is a party (the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) have found the practice of sentencing juvenile offenders to life without parole to be a clear violation of US treaty obligations.

There is movement to change these laws occurring across the country. Legislative efforts are pending in California, Florida, Illinois, and Michigan and there are grassroots movements in Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Washington. Most recently, Colorado outlawed life without parole for children in 2006.

H.R. 4300 would eliminate life without parole for juvenile offenders in the United States and bring our country into compliance with international law and standards of justice. It would recognize that youth are different from adults and provide incentives for rehabilitation that reflect their unique ability to change. Human Rights Watch urges you to support this bill.

[1] Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, The Rest of Their Lives: Life Without Parole for Child Offenders in the United States, October 2005,, pp. 27-28.

[2] Human Rights Watch, When I Die, They’ll Send Me Home: Youth Sentenced to Life without Parole in California, January 2008,, p. 35.

[3] Ibid, p. 36.

[4] American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, “Second Chances, Juveniles Serving Life without Parole in Michigan’s Prisons,” 2004, (accessed September 2, 2008), p. 4.

[5] Human Rights Watch, Thrown Away: Children Sentenced to Life without Parole in Colorado, February 2005,, pp.18-19.

[6] Human Rights Watch, When I Die, They’ll Send Me Home: Youth Sentenced to Life without Parole in California, January 2008,, p. 21.

[7] Human Rights Watch, Executive Summary, The Rest of Their Lives: Life without Parole for Youth Offenders in the United States in 2008, May 2008,, pp.5-7.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Case for Juvenile Courts

The New York Times
August 13, 2008

This country made a terrible mistake when it began routinely trying youthful offenders as adults. This get-tough approach was supposed to deter crime. But a growing number of government-financed studies have shown that minors prosecuted as adults commit more crimes — and are more likely to become career criminals — than ones processed through juvenile courts.

 The value of specialized courts for young people is underscored in a new report from the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. After evaluating the available research, it concludes that transferring juveniles for trial and sentencing to an adult criminal court has increased recidivism, especially among violent offenders, and has led many young people to a permanent life of crime.

The juvenile justice system was one of the great reforms of the Progressive Era. The push to go back to trying children as adults began in the mid-1990s, when state lawmakers fixated on a few, high-profile crimes by young people and — convinced there was a youth crime wave — came up with a politically convenient solution.

Young people who commit serious, violent crimes deserve severe punishment. But reflexively transferring juvenile offenders — many of whom are accused of nonviolent crimes — into the adult system is not making anyone safer. When they are locked up with adults, young people learn criminal behaviors. They are also deprived of the counseling and family support that they would likely get in the juvenile system, which is more focused on rehabilitation. And once they are released, their felony convictions make it hard for them to find a job and rebuild their lives.

Nearly every state now has laws that encourage prosecutors to try minors as adults. The recent studies of this approach should lead legislatures to abandon these counterproductive policies.

A version of this article appeared in print on August 14, 2008, on page A22 of the New York edition.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary Passes S.3155

On July 31, 2008, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary marked-up and passed, by voice vote, S. 3155, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2008, bi-partisan legislation to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) and originally co-sponsored by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-PA), and Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI).

As introduced, S. 3155:
  • Encourages states to make critical improvements to juvenile justice systems, including the avoidance of dangerous practices and the adoption of evidence based practices;
  • Gives states authority to retain delinquent offenders under juvenile jurisdiction after they have reached the age of majority, in keeping with state law;
  • Places common sense limits on the pretrial detention of juveniles in adult jails;
  • Creates a meaningful approach for reducing racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice by strengthening the disproportionate minority contact (DMC) core requirement;
  • Dramatically increases federal authorizations for core juvenile justice programs;
  • Creates new incentives for improving mental health and substance abuse assessment, treatment and diversion, as well as for improving case management and re-entry services:
  • Reaffirms the federal-state partnership by supporting states’ efforts to comply with JJDPA core requirements, strengthening research and technical assistance to be conducted by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Policy (OJJDP), and increasing transparency on the part of OJJDP and the states.
During the July 31 mark-up, S. 3155 was further strengthened to:
  • Phase-out use of the valid court order over a three-year period, with a 1-2 year hardship extension for those states that need additional time to make needed changes;
  • Sharpen the focus on mental health and substance abuse services in State Plans and add opportunities for behavioral health improvements under the new Incentive Grants program; and
  • Improve fiscal and performance accountability by juvenile justice-related agencies at the federal level.

The ACT4JJ Campaign has developed a two-page summary of the bill as introduced. Click below to view.

ACT4JJ Summary of S. 3155

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

S. 3155: Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2008

Here is the information we have located on S. 3155 - Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2008:

The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider S. 3155, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2008, for markup in the coming days. The bill was introduced June 18, 2008.

This legislation will reauthorize the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act (JJDPA), which has provided states and localities with federal standards and supports for improving juvenile justice and delinquency prevention practices, and has contributed to safeguards for youth, families and communities since its inception in 1974.

The bill adds critical additions to the JJPDA to keep youth out of adult jails and prisons. Youth placed in adult jails with adults are at risk of physical and sexual assault. According to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 21% and 13% of all substantiated victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence in jails in 2005 and 2006 respectively, were youth under the age of 18, though only 1% of inmates are juveniles.

It strengthens provisions to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. This is a critical change because at every level of the juvenile justice system, youth of color are disproportionately represented. This overrepresentation is evidenced at many stages of the juvenile justice system process.

It focuses on conditions of confinement in juvenile facilities, and assists States in their capacity to comply with the federal law. S. 3155 requires States to collect data regarding restraints and isolation and to adopt policies and procedures to eliminate the use of dangerous practices in juvenile detention and correctional facilities, such as hog-tying, use of pepper spray, and any forms of sexual abuse. It also ensures that States will receive technical assistance to comply with the law, and for States not in compliance, JJDPA funds that would otherwise have been withheld can be used by the States as improvement grants to regain compliance in that specific area.

Source: Campaign for Youth Justice

The following information is available at:

This bill is in the first step in the legislative process. Introduced bills go first to committees that deliberate, investigate, and revise them before they go to general debate. The majority of bills never make it out of committee. Keep in mind that sometimes the text of one bill is incorporated into another bill, and in those cases the original bill, as it would appear here, would seem to be abandoned.

Sen. Patrick Leahy [D-VT]

Co-Sponsors [as of 2008-07-26]:
Sen. Norm Coleman [R-MN]
Sen. Susan Collins [R-ME]
Sen. Richard Durbin [D-IL]
Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D-CA]
Sen. Herbert Kohl [D-WI]
Sen. Olympia Snowe [R-ME]
Sen. Arlen Specter [R-PA]

You can read and download the bill from our file-sharing site at the following link:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Life Without Parole Unfair to Juveniles?

by Dana DiFilippo
Philadelphia Daily News
July 25, 2008

For being a traitorous friend, Stacey Torrance was thrown into jail for life.

Torrance was just 14 when an older cousin convinced him in 1988 to lure a rich kid to a North Philadelphia corner, where the cousin and an accomplice kidnapped and later shot and strangled him.

Torrance didn't kill 16-year-old Alexander Porter and insisted he never knew of his cousin's murderous intent. But 20 years later, he sits in a state prison in Chester, with no prospect for parole or eventual freedom.

Such cases concern lawmakers like state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montco-Bucks, who said he began to question the system's fairness when he learned that Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of juveniles sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Greenleaf will convene a public hearing on Sept. 22 in Harrisburg to examine whether legislative relief is warranted.

"The purpose of this fact-finding session is to hear the experts in regards to what's going on and make sure there's no injustice being done," Greenleaf said.

Pennsylvania has 444 people serving life-without-parole sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles, according to Human Rights Watch. Nationally, 2,484 lifers are behind bars for crimes they committed as juveniles. No youth outside the United States are serving such sentences, said Alison Parker, deputy director of the group's U.S. program.

Pennsylvania also has the dubious distinction of ranking second nationally, behind Connecticut, in the racial disparity of juveniles sentenced to life without parole, Parker wrote in a report she released in May. In Pennsylvania, she said, black juveniles are 1.5 times more likely to be sentenced to life without parole as white youth, despite commensurate crimes.

Hearings like Greenleaf's are crucial to reforming the system, Parker said.

"We're absolutely supportive of any moves by legislators both at the state and the federal level to eliminate the sentence of life without parole for children," said Parker, who has studied the issue since 2005. "The sentence violates human rights; it's unjust and inappropriate for a child."

Some experts strongly disagree.

"We don't think it needs reform; [life without parole] is only applied in the most serious cases," said Christopher Mallios, assistant chief of District Attorney Lynne Abraham's legislation unit. "It's used because of the horrible nature of the crime, [when the defendant has] an extensive record as a juvenile and there's a finding that they're no longer amenable to treatment in the juvenile system."

Mallios, an assistant district attorney, said his office likely will participate in Greenleaf's public hearing.

The issue is landing on more states' legislative agendas.

Lawmakers in California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan and Nebraska have considered providing parole relief for juvenile lifers, Parker said. Colorado in 2006 became the only state to pass legislation eliminating life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, she said.

"The idea is simply to give them access to a parole hearing, which is not a guarantee of release," Parker said. "It's not: 'Let's throw open the jail doors and let out dangerous people.' It's simply: 'Grant them a hearing.' "

At least one federal lawmaker also has moved to make early release possible for juvenile lifers.

Rep. Robert C. Scott of Virginia last December introduced the Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act, a bill that would require that juveniles get at least one parole hearing during the first 15 years of their life sentence, followed by at least one parole hearing every three years thereafter.

That bill was referred to a crime subcommittee in January.

Experts say Pennsylvania's top ranking results from tough state laws such as charging murder suspects as adults regardless of their age.

Some prosecutors argue that some kids commit such heinous crimes that they deserve to lose their freedom for good. But civil-rights activists say life-without-parole sentences are unfair for young people who are impaired by poor judgment and have a chance of being rehabilitated.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

D.C. Council Considers Bill to Separate Youth and Adult Offenders

by James Wright
AFRO Staff Writer

Two of the D.C. City Council’s key committee chairmen are co-sponsoring a bill that would remove offenders below the age of 18 out of the D.C. jail and give judges more latitude in sentencing them for adult crimes.

Councilmembers Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who lead the Public Safety and Judiciary Committee and Committee on Human Services, respectively, decided to sponsor a bill, the Juvenile Justice Improvement Amendment Act of 2008, after the two held a joint hearing on the topic of “Youth Incarcerated at the D.C. Jail” on July 14. The hearing came on the heels of a report released by Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) which criticized the practice of kids and adults sharing the same jails.

“We want to see what is in the best interest of the kids,” Wells said. “We want to know what benefit is it, if any, to have kids in the same jail as adults. Even though these kids have committed crimes, they are still kids and should be treated differently than adult criminals.

“We want to see what options are available to us to combat this problem.”

The act would authorize the Criminal Division of the D.C. Superior Court to consider whether a child who is charged as an adult should be adjudicated as a juvenile, and prohibit any juvenile from being detained in an adult facility.

More than 40 states permit youth offenders who have been locked up for adult offenses to be incarcerated with adults. In the District, the policy is to send a youth accused of a serious offense to the D.C. Jail.

If a youth offender is found guilty of a serious crime, he or she can be sent as far away as Montana to serve their sentence.

Fenty’s findings, “Report on Youth in the Adult Jail” found that:

*Ninety-nine percent of all youth at the D.C. Jail are Black or Latino;

*Most of the youth are not charged with the FBI’s list of most serious offenses; and

*About half of the youth charges are dismissed or are found not guilty.

Mendelson said at present there are 26 juveniles in the D.C. jail. There were as many as 45 in 2007, he said, which he called unacceptable.

“That is still too many young people in a place that is really not designed for them,” he said.

Liz Ryan, president and chief executive officer of the Campaign for Youth Justice, said at the hearing that the real travesty was incarcerating youth who are found not guilty or their cases are thrown out.

The youth ends up traumatized and emotionally scarred because of the experience, she said. She said that “it is important for D.C. to follow the example of Chicago and Los Angeles and end the practice.”

The law which governs this area, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, states that youth who commit adult offenses can be incarcerated with grown-up criminals. The problem, Ryan said, is that oftentimes the youth is neglected by the criminal justice system and is not provided the support services that are needed.

William Rivera, a budding writer who served several months in the D.C. jail in 2005 as a youth, testified that the jail is indifferent to the needs of young people.

“When I was in jail, I was the only Latino youth there,” Rivera said. “While I was there, I was jumped and beaten. Nobody tried to help me.

“When I requested mental health services, I could not get it. I tried to get my GED, but I saw that the classes were a joke.

“Several times, I saw suicide attempts. I even talked one guy down from hanging himself.”

Jail guards ignored most fights, Rivera said. They seemed more concerned with their careers than the care of the inmates, he said.

Devon Brown, director of the D.C. Department of Corrections, said that he believes, in theory, that youth should not be placed with adult offenders. However, there is the matter of what the law is, he said.

“It is important to note that everyone who is committed to the custody of the Department of Corrections is considered to be an adult in the eyes of the law, irrespective of their chronological age,” Brown said.

While Brown did not discuss Rivera’s experiences in the D.C. Jail, he did talk about programs that are offered to youth that are designed for rehabilitation.

“Juveniles are engaged in activities throughout the day designed to promote their physical, mental and social well-being,” he said. He mentioned programs such as a book clubs, art therapy, indoor and outdoor recreation, religious services, chess therapy and moral training.

Brown said that the Fenty administration is committed to seeing that youth offenders are treated fairly. He cited a town hall meeting in the spring held by the mayor at the jail for youth in which they talked about the problems that they had.

The bill proposed by Mendelson and Wells will not be considered until after the summer recess, which ends the week after Labor Day. The bill will have to go through public hearings and votes in both committees before it can be scheduled for the full council.

Fenty has said that he supports legislation ending youth incarceration at the D.C. Jail.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Child's Play: Congress Must Act on Juvenile Justice Bill

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Monday, July 21, 2008

The poet William Wordsworth observed that "the child is father of the man." The truth of those words is seen every day in a setting that has no place for poetry -- the criminal justice system and its many crowded halls of despair.

Yet the poet's wisdom has to be accounted for in that part of the system that deals with children and young people, the juvenile justice system.

Truly, the child is father of the man (or woman). Young people are vulnerable, impressionable and sometimes trouble. When they commit crimes, how the authorities treat them can make the difference between whether they later waste their lives or become productive citizens.

The recognition that youths who commit crime deserve a separate system to adjudicate them is more than a century old. The earliest courts focused on rehabilitating young offenders instead of merely punishing them, a philosophy that also recognized that immature kids could hardly be held as responsible for wrongdoing as adults who knew better.

Not always wisely, the pendulum has swung back in recent years with various states passing laws that allow children to be tried as adults for serious offenses, a trend fed by a public opinion unsympathetic to anyone who commits a crime, regardless of age.

While the states are responsible for their juvenile justice systems, the federal government offers funding in return for state adherence to federal standards. In 1974, Congress passed a landmark piece of legislation, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which has been updated over the years, the last time in 2002.

Now it is being reconsidered again as S. 3155 in the Senate Judiciary Committee. This is an opportunity to bring both a greater touch of humanity to the treatment of youth offenders and also incorporate practical steps based on the latest findings on what works best with them.

A co-sponsor of the bill is Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, who brings a prosecutor's experience and wisdom to discussing its merits. He believes it strikes a balance between providing federal support and guidance to state programs while respecting the individual criminal justice policies of states. In a statement after the bill was introduced last month, Mr. Specter praised the provisions for mentoring and other programs to prevent delinquency and promote rehabilitation.

The bill would make it harder to put kids in adult jails, which gives some officials in Allegheny County pause about whether those charged with very serious crimes should be held with other youthful offenders. But the principle of keeping kids out of adult facilities is an important one and the practical problems for juvenile facilities shouldn't stand in its way.

The legislation will increase federal funding, perhaps by as much as $272 million for fiscal year 2009, no small thing at a time of deficits. But this is a very good investment for the future. Congress should pass S. 3155.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Juvenile Justice: Some Changes Would Improve Legislation in the Senate

The Washington Post
Sunday, July 13, 2008; Page B06

SINCE 1974, federal law has required that juveniles picked up for breaking the law be kept separate from alleged adult offenders -- and for good reason. Juveniles held in adult facilities are more likely to be attacked, more likely to commit crimes once released and more likely to commit suicide than those held in facilities that house only minors. This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider reauthorizing an updated version of the 1974 bill. The Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2008 strengthens protections for juveniles while safeguarding judicial discretion to deal with exceptional cases. It also calls for preservation and expansion of programs that have been particularly effective in combating delinquency and crime among youth, including mentoring and after-school supervision. The bill should be passed, with some changes.

Over the past decade, an increasing number of states have adopted laws allowing juveniles to be charged as adults for certain serious crimes; prosecutors in these jurisdictions often have the last word on charging decisions. Those jurisdictions often also require that these juveniles be held in adult facilities. Under the proposed bill, even juveniles charged as adults must be held in juvenile facilities or out of "sound and sight" of adults in adult facilities unless a judge specifically orders otherwise. A judge must take into account the alleged offender's age, his physical and mental maturity, and the nature of the crime, among other factors; a judge must review every 30 days the decision to send a juvenile to an adult facility. This approach is sensible. The bill should be amended to explicitly allow prosecutors and other state officials to flag for the judge juveniles they believe would be a danger to other minors and so would be better held in adult quarters.

The legislation also takes a step in the right direction by setting stricter limits on detentions for status offenders -- those youths who are picked up for skipping school or running away from home. Such youths have not committed crimes and would not have been locked up for these infractions had they been adults. Studies show that these juveniles -- and the community -- are better served when they are directed to mentoring or school-based programs. As it is, judges in many jurisdictions may hold juveniles indefinitely for status offenses; the proposed bill would limit that to seven days. That's an improvement, but lawmakers should consider eliminating these detentions altogether.

The Congressional Budget Office has not yet estimated the cost of the new juvenile justice bill. According to Justice Department figures, the existing version of the law cost taxpayers just under $300 million last year -- real money but a fair price to pay for smart and effective programs.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Eliminate Life Without Parole Sentences for Children in Nebraska Video

Did you know 24 people are serving life without parole in Nebraska for crimes they committed when they were under the age of 18?

In the rest of the world, outside of the United States, there are zero.

Support LB 843 and eliminate the possibility of a sentence of life without parole for minors.

Video created out of the kindness and generosity of Root Down Creative in Lincoln, Nebraska. For more info email

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Survey Shows Michigan Willing to Give Youths Second Chance

By Marilyn King

Michigan residents believe juvenile offenders deserve second chances such as rehabilitation or parole, according to surveys conducted over two years by MSU associate professor of social work Sheryl Kubiak.

The survey also shows most residents oppose sending young offenders to adult prisons while they are still under 18 years old, Kubiak said.

“What was very clear was that a vast majority of people thought that, even if young people should serve long sentences, they shouldn’t serve them in an adult facility,” she said.

Out of 1,390 residents surveyed, 5 percent believed youths should be sent to an adult prison for life without parole for a serious crime, such as homicide. About 66.5 percent of respondents said youths should serve an intermediate sentence until they are 18, where they can be sent to an adult prison with the opportunity of parole.

Michigan is one of 19 states that allow children of any age to be tried and punished as adults. Kubiak, who became involved in surveys pertaining to juvenile offenders during her time at Wayne State University, said residents support second chances because of the possibility of rehabilitation.

Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Richard Garcia said the juvenile system is a treatment, not punishment-based, system. Most juvenile offenders first go through programs to help prevent high-risk behaviors before taking further action.

For sentencing, the court also examines factors such as involvement in the crime, past offenses and any previous rehabilitation program, Garcia said.

“It just depends on if there’s any hope yet to redirect that young person and make sure that they won’t offend again,” Garcia said. “The public still deserves to be protected.”

A hearing held by a family court judge then determines whether it is in the best interest of the community for the juvenile to be tried as an adult.

Other factors could help determine whether or not a juvenile offender deserves a second chance, said MSU alumna Erin Gantz.

“If you’re 17 or 18 (years old) and you’re committing a violent crime, then you should know better,” Gantz said. “But it would depend on the crime and where the person came from.”

Youth younger than the age of 17 years old who break the law may be tried before the Family Division of the Ingham County Circuit Court. Kubiak said since releasing the results, other researchers across the nation have inquired about conducting a similar survey in their area.

Kubiak said only three countries have a policy allowing juveniles to be sentenced to life in prison without parole, including the United States.

“I definitely think this is information that our legislators can use to think about and realign the policies to what the public is thinking,” Kubiak said.

Published on Sunday, June 15, 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008

Report Finds Racial Disparities in the Severity of Punishment

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 13, 2008; Page B02

The nation's juvenile justice system metes out harsher punishment to black and Latino youths, locks up thousands of children for relatively minor offenses and ultimately makes them more dangerous, according to a national study released yesterday.

"We are generating more violence and criminality in our effort to interrupt it," said Douglas W. Nelson, president and chief executive of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which conducted the study, during a news conference yesterday. "We routinely fail to recognize that children are different than adults. We need to alter the context in which we serve kids."

Nelson's remarks came with the release of the foundation's annual Kids Count report, which measures the well-being of America's children in 10 categories. The report shows reductions in the rates of child deaths, teenage births, high school dropouts and teens who are not in school or working. Four areas increased: low-birthweight infants, children in single-parent homes, children in poverty and children in families in which no parent works full time.

The percentage of newborns weighing less than 5.5 pounds, who are at greater risk of dying in infancy or having long-term problems, is the highest in 40 years. It was the only category in which Maryland worsened from 2000 to 2005, when the percentage of low-birthweight babies in the state rose from 8.6 to 9.1.

Nationally, infant mortality remained steady during the period.

Maryland tied New Hampshire, at 10 percent, for the lowest rate of children living in poverty. The national rate was 11 percent for white children, 36 percent for blacks and American Indians and 28 percent for Hispanics.

Virginia improved in all but three categories: low-birthweight babies, infant mortality and children in single-parent homes.

The District lost ground in half of the 10 categories: infant mortality, teen deaths, teen births, children living with no parents working full time and children in poverty.

But the primary focus of this year's report was the fate of the 400,000 youths who cycle through the juvenile justice system each year. During a two-hour news conference yesterday at the Cannon House Office Building, a panel of experts said the problem has largely been fueled by fear and racism that often lead police to take young white offenders home and minorities to jail.

In 2006, for example, three youths of color were in custody for every one white youth, the report said. Two thirds of all youths in custody were incarcerated for a nonviolent offense.

In the 1990s, 49 states made it easier to try youths as adults. On any given night, 100,000 minors are in jails, prisons, boot camps or residential facilities. A succession of speakers yesterday said these places often cause more problems than they solve. Grace Bauer of Lake Charles, La., said her son, who had been sent to a boot camp for being "ungovernable," was raped when he was 13.

Bauer said her son, now 21, carries the scars. She later learned that the program had a 95 percent failure rate. "On my first visit to see him, he had welts on his face," she said.

Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-Virginia) said many "get tough" crime measures are "nonsense that does not reduce crime."

"It helps [politicians] get elected," he said. "If you can get it to rhyme, even better."

Vincent Schiraldi, director of the District's Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, said it would be more rational to lock up only the most violent offenders and use less restrictive options for the others, particularly those without long criminal records.

Reginald Dwayne Betts, now in his mid-20s, said he should not have been sent to adult jail when he was arrested at 16 for carjacking in Fairfax County. He had no previous criminal record and was an honor roll student.

But instead of being sent to a juvenile jail, he was placed with adults and served eight years in prison. He never received any mental health treatment.

After he was released, Betts attended Prince George's Community College. He now goes to the University of Maryland on a poetry scholarship.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Annie E. Casey Foundation Releases Important Juvenile Reports

2008 KIDS COUNT Data Book Released
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 19th annual KIDS COUNT Data Book, released on June 12, 2008, is a national and state-by-state profile of the well-being of America’s children that ranks states on 10 key measures and provides data on the economic, health, education, and social conditions of America’s children and families.

A Roadmap for Juvenile Justice Reform
This year's Data Book essay outlines key action steps and model programs with the potential to change the reality and prospects for the nearly 100,000 youth confined in U.S. juvenile facilities on any given night. Casey's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative has worked to is a movement to reduce to strengthen juvenile justice systems, make communities safer, help youth, and save tax dollars since 1992.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Abolish Juvenile Life WIthout Parole Sentences in the USA - Facebook Group

The Abolish Juvenile Life Without Parole Sentences in the USA - Facebook Group has reached 700 members as of Sunday, June 9, 2008. This is a significant development. It is a reflection that our message is growing across the nation.

For those of you who do not know, Facebook is the fastest growing social networking site in the world. Millions of users access their Facebook accounts daily and share information with people in their networks. Supporters of the movement to abolish juvenile life without parole sentences in the USA are encouraged to create a Facebook account, join the group, and invite others to join as well.

We can send messages to the entire group and ask them to help us mobilize into action when necessary. We can also ask group members to do other things to further our efforts as well. Let's continue harnessing the enormous power of the Internet and using every available resource to advance this cause.

Abolish Juvenile Life Without Parole Sentences in the USA - Facebook Group

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act of 2007 (Introduced in House)

Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement
Act of 2007 (Introduced in House)

HR 4300 IH

1st Session

H. R. 4300

To establish a meaningful opportunity for parole for each child offender sentenced to life in prison, and for other purposes.


December 6, 2007

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia (for himself and Mr. CONYERS) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary


To establish a meaningful opportunity for parole for each child offender sentenced to life in prison, and for other purposes.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


    This Act may be cited as the `Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act of 2007'.


    Congress finds the following:
      (1) Historically, courts in the United States have recognized the undeniable differences between adult and youth offenders.
      (2) In fact, while writing for the majority in Roper v. Simmons (125 S. Ct. 1183), a recent Supreme Court decision abolishing use of the death penalty for juveniles, Justice Kennedy declared such differences to be `marked and well understood.'
      (3) Notwithstanding such edicts, many youth are being sentenced in a manner that has typically been reserved for adults. These sentences include a term of imprisonment of life without the possibility of parole.
      (4) The decision to sentence youthful offenders to life without parole is an issue of growing national concern.
      (5) While only about a dozen youth are serving such sentences in the rest of the world, research indicates that there are at least 2,225 youth offenders serving life without parole in the United States.
      (6) The estimated rate at which the sentence is imposed on children nationwide remains at least three times higher today than it was fifteen years ago.
      (7) The majority of youth sentenced to life without parole are first-time offenders.
      (8) Sixteen percent of these individuals were fifteen or younger when they committed their crimes.
      (9) Denying such individuals the possibility of a meaningful opportunity for parole is both cruel and unwise. It sends a message to our youth that they are beyond rehabilitation. It also demonstrates a complete lack of confidence in the ability of our penal institutions to accomplish one of their main goals and responsibilities.


    (a) In General- For each fiscal year after the expiration of the period specified in subsection (d)(1), each State shall have in effect laws and policies under which each child offender who is under a life sentence receives, not less than once during the first 15 years of incarceration, and not less than once every 3 years of incarceration thereafter, a meaningful opportunity for parole. Not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Attorney General shall issue guidelines and regulations to interpret and implement this section. This provision shall in no way be construed to limit the access of child offenders to other programs and appeals which they were rightly due prior to the passage of this Act.
    (b) Definition- In this section, the term `child offender who is under a life sentence' means an individual who--
      (1) is convicted of an offense committed before the individual attained the age of 18; and
      (2) is sentenced to a term of natural life, or the functional equivalent in years, for that offense.
    (c) Applicability- This section applies to an individual who is sentenced on or after the date of the enactment of this Act as well as to an individual who had already been sentenced as of the date of the enactment of this Act.
    (d) Compliance and Consequences-
      (1) COMPLIANCE DATE- Each State shall have not more than 3 years from the date of enactment of this Act to be in compliance with this section, except that the Attorney General may grant a 2-year extension to a State that is making a good faith effort to comply with this section.
      (2) CONSEQUENCE OF NONCOMPLIANCE- For any fiscal year after the expiration of the period specified in paragraph (1), a State that fails to be in compliance with this section shall not receive 10 percent of the funds that would otherwise be allocated for that fiscal year to that State under subpart 1 of part E of title I of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (42 U.S.C. 3750 et seq.), whether characterized as the Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Programs, the Local Government Law Enforcement Block Grants program, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, or otherwise.
      (3) REALLOCATION- Amounts not allocated under a program referred to in paragraph (2) to a State for failure to be in compliance with this section shall be reallocated under that program to States that have not failed to be in compliance with this section.


    In addition to any other method of early release that may apply, the Attorney General shall establish and implement a system of early release for each child offender who is under a life sentence (as defined in section 3) in a Federal facility. The system shall conform as nearly as practicable to the laws and policies required of a State under section 3.


    (a) In General- The Attorney General shall award grants to States for the purpose of improving the quality of legal representation provided to child defendants charged with an offense which could potentially subject them to the sentence of life in prison.
    (b) Defined Term- In this section, the term `legal representation' means legal counsel and investigative, expert, and other services necessary for competent representation.
    (c) Use of Funds- Grants awarded under subsection (a) shall be used to establish, implement, or improve a system for providing competent legal representation to--
      (1) individuals charged with committing, before the individual attained the age of 18, an offense subject to life imprisonment; and
      (2) individuals convicted of, and sentenced to life for, committing such an offense who seek appellate or collateral relief, including review in the Supreme Court of the United States.
    (d) Authorization of Appropriations- There are authorized to be appropriated to carry out this section such sums as may be necessary.

Friday, May 23, 2008

¿Dónde está la justicia? A Call to Action on Behalf of Latino and Latina Youth in the U.S. Justice System

Click here to view the report in full-screen.

Children in Adult Jails

The New York Times

May 23, 2008

Children who are confined to adult jails are at greater risk of being raped, battered or pushed to suicide. They also are more likely to become violent criminals than children handled through the juvenile justice system. When Congress reauthorizes the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, it should press the states to end this barbaric practice.

The juvenile justice law provides federal aid to states that agree to humanize their often Dickensian systems — and to refrain from placing children in adult jails. The bargain worked well enough until the 1990s, when there was an outbreak of hysteria about so-called super predators and an adolescent crime wave that never materialized.

States classified ever larger numbers of young offenders as adults. Today, laws in more than 40 states permit adult courts to try children as young as 14. Perhaps as many as half the young people who are transferred into the adult system are never convicted as adults — and some are never convicted at all. But by the time the system is finished with them, many will have spent more than six months in adult jails, according to a report by the Campaign for Youth Justice, an advocacy group based in Washington.

Not surprisingly, these young people are much more likely to harm themselves in adult jails than in juvenile facilities. Those who survive often return to their communities as damaged people who are much more likely to commit crimes and return to prison.

The current system is counterproductive and inhumane. Congress could remedy this with one simple fix. It should require all states that receive federal juvenile justice aid to refrain from housing people under the age of 18 in adult jails, except for those accused of the most serious crimes like rape and murder.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Some States Consider Repealing Life Without Parole for Teens

Legislatures in several states, including California, Illinois, and Michigan, are considering proposals to end the practice of sentencing offenders under the age of 18 to life in prison without parole.

According to Human Rights Watch, there are at least 2,380 individuals currently serving life sentences in the United States for crimes they committed when they were 17 years old or younger. The offenders were tried in state courts under laws allowing the transfer of children, in certain circumstances, from the juvenile justice system to the adult courts and in states that have lowered the age of jurisdiction in adult criminal court to 17 years old or younger. Thirty-eight states allow life without parole for teenage offenders, according to Human Rights Watch, which has been campaigning against the practice for several years.

Backers of legislation to eliminate life without parole for youth offenses say the practice does not take into consideration neuroscientific research indicating that immature brains lack impulse control and the ability that adults have to use judgment.

Researchers have documented that children cannot be expected to have achieved the same level of psychological and neurological development as an adult even when they become teenagers. Additionally, the practice has been shown to disproportionally affect racial minorities, and that teenagers who receive such sentences often had poor legal representation.

A package of bills that would eliminate life without parole for children is pending in the Michigan legislature. Currently, 300 individuals are serving that sentence in Michigan. The legislation makes these individuals eligible for parole consideration and allows judges to use discretion when deciding what type of punishment best fits the crime.

Excerpt from: Criminal Justice Newsletter, February 15, 2008

Sunday, May 18, 2008

US: California May End ‘Life Without Parole’ for Youth

Committee Approves Bill to Reform Sentencing of Young Offenders

(Sacramento, April 8, 2008) – The California Senate’s Public Safety Committee has taken a historic step toward ending the practice of sentencing youth to die in prison by passing a reform bill, Human Rights Watch said today.

The committee voted 3 to 2 in favor of the Juvenile Life Without Parole Reform Act (Senate Bill 1199), which would eliminate life-without-parole sentences for offenders under age 18. It would instead impose a sentence of 25 years to life, giving young offenders access to parole after 25 years if they show convincing evidence of rehabilitation.

“Today’s vote shows that California can give young people a parole hearing – which is not a get-out-of-jail-free card – without compromising public safety,” said Alison Parker, deputy director of the US program at Human Rights Watch. “The full California Senate should pass SB 1199 so that young prisoners will have a chance to redeem themselves.”

Human Rights Watch and a wide range of organizations and individuals across California called upon the full Senate and Assembly to pass SB 1199, which requires a two-thirds majority to become law. The bill was authored by Senator Leland Yee of San Francisco and San Mateo counties, together with four co-authors.

Parker, a contributor to Human Rights Watch’s January 2008 report “When I Die, They’ll Send Me Home: Youth in California Sentenced to Life without Parole”, testified on the report’s findings at the Public Safety Committee hearing in Sacramento on April 8, 2008. She explained that California has sentenced youth to life without parole in ways that undermine standards of justice and fair play.

In nearly 70 percent of California cases reported to Human Rights Watch in which a youth committed a crime with others and was sentenced to life without parole, at least one codefendant was an adult. Survey responses indicate that in 56 percent of those cases, the adult received a more lenient sentence than the juvenile. Also, 45 percent of California youth sentenced to life without parole for involvement in a murder did not actually kill the victim. Many were convicted of felony murder, or for aiding and abetting crimes.

“It’s shocking that California actually punishes young offenders more harshly than their adult co-defendants, even when the kids aren’t the ones pulling the trigger,” Parker said. “Juveniles aren’t adults and shouldn’t be treated like them, but California sends under-18s off to die in prison without even the possibility of a second chance.”

California has the worst record in the nation for racial disparities in the sentencing of juveniles to life without parole: black youth are serving the sentence at a per-capita rate that is 18 times the rate for white youth. This difference in treatment cannot be explained by higher levels of arrest of black youth. Black youth arrested for murder in California are sentenced to life without parole at a rate that is 5.8 times that of white youth arrested for murder.

Randall Hagar, director of governmental affairs for the California Psychiatric Association, based his testimony in support of SB 1199 on current scientific research showing that the brains of youth are still developing and maturing. Jim Lindburg, of the Friends Committee on Legislation of California, testified on behalf of SB 1199 as an appropriate response to the very high costs of California’s prisons, and because “redemption still has value in our society.”

International law prohibits life-without-parole sentences for those who commit their crimes before the age of 18, and no country outside the United States applies the sentence to youth. There are 227 California prisoners serving sentences of life without parole for crimes committed when they were under 18.

For more information about SB 1199 please click here, and here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

"Three Wise Men" by Arthur Argomaniz

"Three Wise Men" by Arthur Argomaniz is an essay by a University of Southern California (USC) McNair Scholar which addresses the need to abolish juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences in the USA. Argomaniz specifically mentions and quotes Efren Paredes, Jr., Mario Rocha, and Anthony Throop throughout the essay and shares their insight into the issue of JLWOP with the reader. A well-written and compelling essay that should be read and circulated widely.

Read this doc on Scribd: Three Wise Men by Arthur Argomaniz
Read this doc on Scribd: Three Wise Men by Arthur Argomaniz

Thursday, May 15, 2008