Well, whadya know -- Texas finally passes life without parole, and now the NY Times runs a series of article on how those sentences might be more cruel than a death sentence ... there's just no pleasing some people ...
NYT: To more inmates, life term means dying behind bars
NYT: Jailed for life after crimes as teenagers
NYT: Serving life, with no chance of redemption
Now I've found the genesis of the articles, buried in the second one:
"But a report to be issued on Oct. 12 by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found ...."
(That's funny, the Times got their copy already; my copy must be lost in the mail ...)
And there's more:
"The Supreme Court's decision earlier this year to ban the juvenile death penalty, which took into account international attitudes about crime and punishment, has convinced prosecutors and activists that the next legal battleground in the United States will be over life in prison for juveniles.
Society has long maintained age distinctions for things like drinking alcohol and signing contracts, and the highest court has ruled that youths under 18 who commit terrible crimes are less blameworthy than adults. Defense lawyers and human rights advocates say that logic should extend to sentences of life without parole. ..."
(anyone notice how "human rights advocates" never seem to advocate for crime victims?)
The Times can't go a week without printing an article or opinion piece with the following bit of unique "logic":
"Human rights advocates say that the use of juvenile life without parole, or LWOP, is by one measure rising. 'Even with murder rates going down,' said Alison Parker, the author of the new report, 'the proportion of juvenile murder offenders entering prison with LWOP sentences is going up.'"
Gee, could it be that incarcerating violent people and not releasing them results in a reduction in violent crime?? Who'd a thunk it??
Well then, if they're so damned concerned, why don't we arrange to parole the offenders to the newsroom of the NY Times for a few years. How would they like that?
It reminds me of when a defense attorney asksme for a bond reduction on a bad offender. Lots of times, I tell them, "Sure, as long as a condition of bond is that he lives at your house." Of course, I'm kidding, but the looks on their faces are really funny!
Apparently, calendar years are longer in Western Europe, such that a 10-12 year sentence "is an extremely long term." I mean, if a Yale law professor thinks so, then it must be true.
I want to know where these people get off comparing our judicial system to Europe under the assumption that everybody knows it's just better over there? What's wrong with serving the sentence the jury gave you? What is so morally superior about a lenient justice system?
I might as well note that those "human rights" activists who oppose the death penalty and LWOP are much better organized than we are. They are out there doing surveys and studies to help support their already-confirmed beliefs. And you know, often, this research isn't as earth-shattering as the newspapers spin it.
For example, the second NY Times article talks about how "juveniles" (those under 18 and sometimes, those under 20) sentenced to LWOP peaked in 1996 (at 152) and plummeted to 54 last year. Also, 84% of the s-called juvenile lifers are in for murder, suggesting that they don't get life except in the most heinous circumstances. So what's the big? Well, the complaint of the human rights advocates is that a greater percentage of juvenile murder offenders now get LWOP, but they don't even say what the percentages are.
Sounds to me like they are making something out of nothing in the hope the the Supreme Court will cite their "statistics" in 5 years, a la Atkins and Roper. And the NY TImes helps them by titling that section of the article, "Some Dismay Over Sentences," when it should be titled, "Juveniles Get LWOP Less and Less."
As with Atkins, I wonder where's the money going to come from for research that supports the other side, i.e., the truth? We prosecutors come to these fights unarmed. It's not even a fair fight.
If life without parole is worse than a death sentence, howcome those inmates on death row file writ after writ in an attempt to stay alive?
[There really is no such thing as life without parole.]
Parole proposed for youths who kill
By Gary Marx
Tribune staff reporter
Michael Cooks was a seasoned gang banger and drug dealer when he gunned down two men in Englewood.
He was also 14 years old.
Cooks is now 32, and after serving more than half of his life in prison, he says he has grown into a different person than the boy who pulled the trigger.
"I've calmed things down, learned to actually think before I react in certain situations," he said in an interview at Menard Correctional Center, about 85 miles south of St. Louis. "I've learned to walk away, which is why I don't be getting in fights or anything."
Whether he is truly rehabilitated is largely moot. Cooks was sentenced to serve the rest of his life in prison and has no possibility of parole.
He is one of at least 103 Illinois inmates serving sentences of natural life for crimes committed before their 18th birthday.
These inmates are getting new attention from human-rights groups and policymakers who question whether juveniles should be locked up for life. In Illinois and other states, some are seeking to change the law to give these inmates a shot at parole.
Juvenile justice advocates argue that youthful offenders are less culpable for their actions than adults. Science shows that a juvenile's brain is not fully developed and is less capable of resisting peer pressure and controlling impulsive behaviors. Advocates also say teenage offenders are more open to rehabilitation than older, more hardened criminals.
But supporters of the natural life sentence say it is only used for the most violent youthful offenders.
They argue that it serves not only as a just punishment for heinous crimes but also assures that the offenders will never kill again -- at least not outside prison.
The United States is one of only 13 countries where offenders under 18 are eligible for a natural life sentence, according to Amnesty International.
In December, the United Nations approved a resolution 185-1 calling for the elimination of life without parole for youths. Only the United States voted against it.
In 2005, there were at least 2,225 juvenile lifers nationwide, with Pennsylvania leading the country followed by Louisiana, Michigan, Florida, California, Missouri and Illinois, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Notorious young offenders
In Illinois, the list includes some notorious offenders.
There is Peter Saunders, who was 16 when he stabbed and beat to death an elderly woman in 1983 and later, while in prison, sent a bomblike device to U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning.
There is Johnny Freeman, who was three months shy of his 18th birthday when he kidnapped and raped a 5-year-old girl before pushing her out the 13th-floor window of a Chicago Housing Authority building in 1985.
But the list also includes juvenile lifers like Cooks, who in a 1993 Tribune profile was described as a predator and a victim, the product of a volatile, impoverished family wracked by drugs and violence.
"I guess I figured out I could fight a little bit, so I ain't gotta run no more," he told the Tribune in 1993. "And I just started fighting all the time."
He now says he was a product of his environment.
"We'd all seen dead bodies before. We'd all seen people get shot up. We'd all seen people get beat to death," Cooks said in the prison interview. "So if you don't have nobody around that's telling you that this isn't normal ... we think this is acceptable."
Cooks is the kind of inmate prompting the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and five other institutions to seek the elimination of natural life sentences for youthful offenders in Illinois.
"Children are different than adults," said Alison Parker, deputy director of the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch, one of the groups in the effort. "They need to be punished for serious crimes, but the punishment they receive needs to acknowledge their capacity for rehabilitation, and life without parole doesn't do that."
Lead by such well-known advocates as Bernadine Dohrn and Randolph Stone, The Illinois Coalition for Fair Sentencing of Children is scheduled to issue a report on the topic by year's end.
Joining the effort is state Rep. Robert Molaro (D-Chicago), who introduced a bill that would have allowed juvenile lifers a shot at parole after serving 20 years in prison.
He tabled the bill because of sharp criticism from victims rights groups who said they were not consulted about the proposal. Molaro hopes to revive the effort early next year and vows to work with law enforcement officials and other critics.
Similar proposals have been introduced in California and Michigan.
Last year, Colorado eliminated juvenile life sentences and, instead, gave future juveniles convicted of murder an optional parole hearing after 40 years in prison.
"We view life without parole as a very inhumane sentence," said state Sen. Liz Brater, a Michigan Democrat and leading reform advocate.
Brater and others say the efforts are a long shot, because of lawmakers' fear of being labeled soft on crime and law enforcement's opposition.
Beginning in the 1980s, when violent crime rose sharply, legislators nationwide passed laws making it easier for juveniles to be tried in adult court, where sanctions are far tougher than in the juvenile justice system.
But the rate of violent crime for adults and juveniles fell dramatically in the 1990s before leveling off in recent years.
"There tends to be a lag between crime rates, trends, and the public mood," said Franklin Zimring, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley. "Things have calmed down in the country, and that does give states and localities more flexibility than the hard-line orthodoxy of the mid-1990s."
Under Illinois law, an offender under the age of 18 is eligible for a life sentence without parole for a single homicide if the crime is exceptionally brutal or heinous.
Little leeway in law
State law allows little or no latitude for youthful offenders convicted of two or more homicides or killing a police officer, prison employee, community policing volunteer or someone under 12 during the course of a sexual assault. Strictly interpreted, the law mandates a natural life sentence -- even for an accomplice.
That's what happened to Marshan Allen, 31, of Chicago who is now serving a life sentence without parole even though he didn't kill anyone.
Allen was 14 when he began peddling crack cocaine for his older brother on the South Side. Allen's parents were divorced. His mother was on public aid. And drug trafficking was a way of life in the Allen household.
"It's like an acceptable thing in my family," said Allen, sitting in Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mt. Sterling. "When my family found out, they never even telling me not to do it. One of my family members just wanted to make sure I was saving money up."
Then, in March 1992, three gunmen allegedly stole several thousand dollars in cash and drugs from Allen's brother, according to court records. A plan was hatched to get the drugs and money back.
Allen helped steal a van that he and two gunmen used to drive to the apartment where the thieves lived. One of the gunmen knocked on the front door. "Who is it?" Allen recalled a voice responding from inside the apartment.
A moment passed before one of Allen's two accomplices opened fire through the door.
Unarmed, Allen ran to the van as the shooting started and only later learned two people in the apartment had been killed.
"I knew they were going to use the guns to get the drugs and money back, but that was it," Allen said. "I mean, murder never even came up."
Allen was convicted in 1994 of double homicide. Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas Dwyer noted that Allen was only 15 at the time of the crime and was under the influence of an older brother.
He described Allen as a "bright lad" who showed "some potential for rehabilitation," according to a transcript of the sentencing hearing.
"I sentence you to a term of natural life," Dwyer said. "If I had my discretion, I would impose another sentence."
Today, Allen regrets peddling dope and his role in the deaths.
"I just want a second chance," said Allen, choking back tears. "I wish that I had the opportunity to prove, or had the chance to show somebody, that I have changed."
SCOTUS declined to hear a test case on the constitutionality of lengthy prison sentences imposed on youthful offenders when they are in their early teen years. The Court turned aside without comment an appeal seeking to test a 30-year prison sentence, without a chance for parole, for a 12-year-old boy for the murder of his grandparents.
There really is no such thing as LWOP. Can't say the same for the death penalty.
[This message was edited by JB on 06-03-11 at .]
The rising number of prisoners serving costly life terms across the country is complicating state officials' efforts to make dramatic cuts to large prison budgets, lawmakers and criminal justice officials said.
Nearly 400 capital murder convicts get life without parole (Houston Chron)
In six years, Texas has built a "lifer's row" filled with 398 prisoners who will never be released through parole - a fast-growing group that already has outpaced the number of inmates serving a death sentence in the Lone Star State, a Houston Chronicle analysis of prison records shows.
Harris County prosecutors, who historically have led the state in seeking death sentences, have so far also been the most aggressive in pursuing capital murder charges and obtaining mandatory life without parole sentences in capital cases.
"If California dumps the death penalty this November, abolitionists will probably dance in the streets. But they shouldn’t, because the state would be abandoning one terrible idea only to replace it with another." - David Dow, DP abolitionist
[Gee, what punishment would be left for capital murder that would distinguish it from any other first degree felony?]
Posts on Miller v. Alabama have been moved to this thread: http://tdcaa.infopop.net/eve/f...7098965/m/6457030706
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