Several weeks ago, I spoke with Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins of Illinois.victims.org after she commented on a post I’d done that she felt had portrayed murder victims’ families as vengeful.
That hadn’t been my intent, but after speaking with Jennifer, I realized that my reference to victims’ families in the post had been insensitive.
My stated purpose for the creation of this blog is to create a dialogue, but doing so has proven easier said than done.
I realized that with very few exceptions, there was no conduit for meaningful dialogue between the advocates for eliminating the sentence of Juvenile Life without the Possibility of Parole and the living victims of those inmates serving LWOP for crimes committed as juveniles.
The Pendulum Foundation is an advocacy organization for juveniles convicted as adults. The mission statement on Pendulum’s website is this:
“Children are our most precious natural resource.
The Pendulum Foundation believes in second chances. As a juvenile justice non-profit organization, we are committed to educating the public about the issues surrounding children convicted and sentenced as adults. We are also committed to taking groundbreaking programs and projects into the prisons that will help our incarcerated youth survive and thrive, as well as transform the lives of young prisoners re-entering society and at-risk youth. Our goal is to ensure – whether inside or outside of prison — happy, healthy, well-adjusted and productive adults.”
There is no advocacy organization for the families of murder victims in Colorado. I thought about this and realized how tragic that really is. I thought about what it might feel like to have lost a loved one to a brutal crime and I imagined how hurt and angry I would feel to see blog posts and news articles in support of the offenders, with no thought to the victims’ perspective. Jennifer helped me to understand how truly traumatizing it is for the living survivors. She helped me to understand that the extreme cases of victims’ families who appear to be vengeful tell only a tiny part of the story. What we don’t see is the long term impact that survivors of these terrible tragedies live with. She helped me to understand that in addition to their grief, victims’ families often deal with divorce, depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and that the prospect of having to testify at parole hearings on a recurring basis, therefore reopening the trauma of the crimes is something that has to be considered when debating changes to LWOP sentences.
Historically, there has been no constructive dialogue between “pro-offender” and “pro-victim” advocacy groups and in order to consider changes to sentencing law, this dialogue has to occur.
I just discovered that there is now a new site called The National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers.
This is an excerpt from the web site, explaining why the site was created:
“The national effort is now well underway by advocates for juvenile offenders to eliminate, or certainly to moderate, the juvenile life without parole sentence for the over 2000 convicted murderers in the United States that were under the age of 18 at the time of their offenses.
While we can understand their well-meaning motives, murder victims’ family members of those cases have, for the most part, been left out of that discussion.
This is not acceptable – to leave the victims of these crimes out of the conversation about what to do with their loved ones’ killers – and will not lead to the broad social change the advocates for the juvenile lifers would hope for, in any case. Unless principles of victims’ rights and human rights and restorative justice are applied to the victims’ families, the social discourse on this sentence for younger killers will degenerate, as it already has in several states, to polarized adversarial battling, resulting in no reforms accomplished and no victims being supported.
Even though there has been a well-funded, fully staffed, orchestrated multi-organizational movement calling for an end to the Juvenile LWOP sentence operating nationally for years, only one state has passed any legislation reforming Juvenile Life without Parole sentences – Colorado.
And Colorado had to pass its law in a painfully adversarial battle with the victims’ families (that knew about the legislative effort to lessen the sentences of their loved ones’ killers). This opposition, we know, saddened and frustrated the conscientious advocates for the juvenile offenders. They have written to us and stated how much they wish that there could have been a respectful and responsible dialogue between them. Instead it was agonizing for all sides.”
I’m encouraged that this new site has been established and is reaching out to contact victims’ families and to offer them voice in this discussion. It’s only when we, as a society are able to examine the complex issue of juvenile life sentences together that we be able to find solutions and alternatives that consider the rights and the humanity of everyone.