Saturday, January 31, 2009

Juvenile Life Without Parole

Click here to view a comeplling story about the imposition of life without parole (LWOP) sentences on juvenile offenders in the USA. The story was aired Friday, January 30, 2009 on Religion & Ethics, a show that appears on PBS. The segment is 10 minutes and 45 seconds long. Please share this story with advocates who are working to end LWOP sentences for juveniles across the country.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Iowa Bill to End Life Without Parole

The bill reduces the sentence for a class "A" felony to 15 years certain followed by possible parole for youth who were under 18 at the time the offense was committed. After serving the mandated sentence, individuals may apply for parole as frequently as every two years.

The parole board must consider the age and maturity level of the offender at the time the offense was committed; the applicant's susceptibility to outside pressures at the time the offense was committed; the potential for rehabilitation; the nature and severity of the offense; prior juvenile and criminal history; the overall behavioral record while incarcerated; and the likelihood to commit other offenses if released.

Click here to view the text of the entire bill on our file-sharing site.  Click here to learn more information about the bill from the State of Iowa web site.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Roper v. Simmons: Unveiling Juvenile Purgatory: Is Life Really Better than Death?" by Elizabeth Cepparulo

The following text is the conclusion to the above-titled research paper. Click here to view the text of the entire paper.

Roper v. Simmons
was an important landmark in modern juvenile justice. While abolishing the juvenile death penalty was momentous, it was merely the tip of the iceberg in providing juveniles the privileges they deserve as persons, as well as the rights they deserve as minors.

While violent juvenile offenders are out of place in the juvenile justice system, they appear inappropriate in the adult system as well. Without establishing a separate system for these offenders, juveniles nonetheless require consideration as such in the adult criminal court.

Instead of treating juveniles like adults, just because there is no severe punishment in the juvenile system, it is fundamental to recognize that they are not adults, and should not be denied their status as such.

Mandatory life without parole (LWOP) turns a blind eye to juvenile individuality at sentencing. As a result, the opportunity to present pressing evidence of the juvenile’s psychological and neurological immaturity is thwarted. However, never have the state courts been in such a position of powerlessness to sentence juveniles brought before them.

To deny an individual specific and personal consideration before mandating that he be incarcerated for fifty, sixty, or seventy years is cruel. To deny this right to a child, but not an adult, is unusual.

More than a constitutional privilege, proportionality between crime and punishment is an individual right. The penalogical goals of our system are extraneous if they are not matched to the individual. Punishments that exclusively serve society’s benefit or exclusively that of the juvenile do not yield a productive nor well-designed system of justice.

Judges considering a punishment should consider the rationale behind it, and the balance of benefits to society as well as the individual. Mandatory LWOP only benefits society, and leaves no hope or purpose for rehabilitating the juvenile.

By allowing a proportionality review, and the possibility of life with parole, juveniles are afforded hope. This alone gives them a reason to live, and to learn. It takes little from society; seventy years is still an extreme sentence and one unlikely to permit release before natural death. It is a small alteration for society, yet a large step forward for our nation’s children.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Too Young for Life: Hinojosa Seeks Sentencing Equity

One of the Legislature’s leading voices on criminal justice issues has decided that teenage killers too young to face execution should also be exempt from being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“To me it’s a matter of fairness and consistency,” said state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. “If the U.S. Supreme Court said to Texas and all the other states, ‘You cannot give these juvenile offenders the death penalty’ [which the Supreme Court did in 2005], then I believe the state of Texas should not be sending them to prison for life without parole.”

Hinojosa, a long-serving lawmaker who sits on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee (and led the House Corrections Committee during his final years as an eight-term state representative), plans to introduce legislation this session that would cap sentences for youthful offenders convicted of capital murder at life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 40 years behind bars.

Such a sentence would be in line with non–capital punishment death sentences handed down before the 2005 Legislature’s enactment of the life-without-parole law. Hinojosa says he decided to push for the new legislation after reading a recent article in the Observer examining the effects of the law (“The Life Penalty,” Nov. 28, 2008).

That law draws no distinction between offenders who commit capital murder before turning 18 and those who kill as adults.

“I think, for someone so young, there is a chance to rehabilitate their lives,” Hinojosa said.

Four under-18 offenders are now serving life-without-parole sentences in Texas. All were sentenced before the 2007 Legislature required the state’s district courts to report demographic information on capital murder cases to the state Office of Court Administration.

When the Nov. 28 Observer went to press, the Office of Court Administration had no information about the ages of the offenders serving life without parole. That information was made available by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in December, after Hinojosa’s office requested a closer examination of life-without-parole cases.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, who advocated the life-without-parole law for six years before it was finally enacted, says he’s open to Hinojosa’s proposed exclusion of youthful offenders, but he wants to see the fine print before committing.

“While I have not seen the language in the proposed bill, I would certainly support an effort to allow juveniles convicted of capital offenses to receive sentences whereby they might be considered for parole after 40 years,” Lucio said. “This was an additional option to life without parole that I also supported for adult offenders. I have faith in Texas jurors and believe juries should be given as many options as possible to be appropriate for the crime.”

Gov. Rick Perry, who signed Lucio’s 2005 legislation into law, is withholding judgment on Hinojosa’s proposal, his office says.

—John Moritz


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Human Rights Groups Call on Obama Administration To Implement Recommendations by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

ATLANTA - January 14 - The Bush administration's last-minute report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was grossly inadequate and full of omissions, according to a coalition of human rights organizations. Instead of reporting on its implementation of recommendations issued by the Committee a year ago, the government yesterday submitted a report that attempts to whitewash the ongoing racial discrimination suffered by people of color in the United States.

"The U.S. government's report fails to address the persistence of structural racism and inequality in this country, such as the continuing widespread racial and ethnic profiling of Muslim and Arab Americans and people of South Asian descent after 9/11," said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. "President-elect Obama can signal a departure from the policies of the Bush administration by taking a fresh look at the Committee recommendations and implementing vigorous and proactive measures against racial and ethnic discrimination."

The Committee is an independent group of experts that oversees compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which the U.S. signed and ratified in 1994. In March 2008, the Committee issued a strongly worded critique of the U.S. record on racial discrimination and recommendations for U.S. compliance with the CERD treaty. Governments are expected to implement the Committee's recommendations, and yesterday's report was the U.S. government's one-year follow up.

According to the human rights coalition, the Bush administration's report glosses over significant issues of racial inequality during his tenure, including the post-9/11 racial profiling of Muslims and people of Arab and South Asian descent; the denial of adequate housing assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; the disproportionate representation of African Americans and Latinos among the 2,500 juveniles sentenced to life sentences without parole; and the deprivation of Western Shoshone American Indians of their ancestral lands.

"Instead of assisting people to return home and recover as recommended by the U.N. committee, the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina is driving African Americans out of our communities in violation of our human rights to non-discrimination and adequate housing," said Monique Harden, Co-Director and Attorney of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights in New Orleans, Louisiana. "The Bush administration is delusional if it thinks that people of color in the Gulf region believe we've been helped by FEMA or any other federal agency."
"The refusal of the Bush administration to correct the racism inherent in current U.S. sentencing practices has resulted in a disproportionate number of children of color being sentenced to life in prison without parole," said Deborah LaBelle, Director of the Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative. "It is a stain on the U.S. to be the only nation in the world that commits the human rights violation of sentencing children to life in prison, and the fact that it disproportionately affects children of color is one more reason to end this unfair practice."
"It is important that President-elect Obama takes action to ensure racial equality by fulfilling the requirements of the CERD treaty," said Ajamu Baraka, Executive Director of the US Human Rights Network. "We look forward to working with the Obama administration to submit a corrected report and a plan of action for implementing the recommendations of the U.N. committee."

The Bush administration's final report to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination can be viewed online at:

The Committee's recommendations to the U.S. are available here:

An U.S. Human Rights Network shadow report to the Committee on the state of racial discrimination in the U.S. and other relevant documents can be found online here:

The ACLU's shadow report to the Committee and more information about CERD is available at:

The Human Rights Watch USA World Report 2008 report is available for viewing at