Petition in Support of HR4300 – Ending Juvenile Life Without Parole

There is a new online petition in support of HR4300, which would end the sentencing Juveniles to Life Without the possibility of parole. Follow this link to the petition. The body of the petition is as follows:
“Target: HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE

I honor Representatives Scott and Conyers for their courage in proposing HR 4300. I encourage you, Honorable Members of the Sub-Committee, to begin to do the hard work in discerning where justice truly lies concerning the youth of America. Please help HR 4300 on its way to the full House.

Sponsored by: HTTP://HR4300.COM

The U. S. disproportionately sentences child offenders to LWOP. With an estimated 2,380 child offenders serving the sentence, and 42 of the 50 states and the federal government permitting the sentence, the U.S. is home to over 99% of youth serving the sentence in the world. 10 states set no minimum age and 12 states set a minimum of 10-13 years of age and 16% who receive this sentence are indeed of this young age. Of great concern are the tremendous racial disparities among the populations receiving the sentence. Finally, it is your responsibility as our leadership to be acutely aware of the unthinkable fact that adult prisons are especially harsh on juveniles. The suicide rate for juveniles in adult facilities is 8 times that of juveniles in detention facilities.

The United States is the only nation on earth that sentences its children to life without parole (LWOP). We have more than 2300 children sentenced to die in prison, including some as young as 13. Children are NOT adults. All studies show that teens brains are not fully developed, and that they do not have the maturity to always make rational, reasoned decisions. The United States Supreme Court stated that children should not be held to the same level of culpability as adults.

HR4300 would give children sentenced to life the opportunity for parole once in 15 years.

We support HR4300.

They can, however, be sentenced to life in prison and its equivalent in years without the possibility of parole, a sentence reserved for those people in our society for whom there is considered to be no redemption. Do you agree that children are beyond redemption? Juvenile life without parole sentences ignore the very real scientific facts and social differences between children and adults, abandoning the concepts of redemption and second chances upon which this country was built. Psychoanalytical studies have shown that children lack the capacity to both understand and control their actions, which reduces culpability. The human brain does not reach its full capacity in the frontal cortex, the area of reasoning, until age 25.”

The actual bill can be read in its entirety here. The substance is as follows:

“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.

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News Story About Jacob Ind on Colorado Springs KKTV 11

I’ve posted a number of Jacob Ind’s essays on serving life without the possibility of parole. KKTV Channel 11 in Colorado Springs aired a story yesterday on the Jacob Ind case and asked their viewers the question, should juveniles who commit murders before the age of 18 be sentenced to life without parole.

It’s interesting to note that the judge in Jacob Ind’s case felt the sentence was too harsh and although the Colorado Attorney General felt that Jacob Ind and Gabriel Adams’ cases should have been tried in adult court, he would not have been opposed to sentencing them to prison terms that afforded the possibility of parole.

Colorado stopped sentencing juveniles to LWOP in 2006, but the change was not made retroactive for the 46 juveniles sentenced to LWOP in Colorado prior to the change.

The news broadcast can be seen here.

Colorado Governor’s Office Cites Misinterpretation of Juvenile Clemency Board Eligibility Criteria

“When it was established last year, Colorado’s Juvenile Clemency Board was held out as a last ray of hope for young prisoners serving time for crimes they committed in their teens.

But 24 young prisoners serving life without parole – and many more serving lesser sentences – are ineligible to petition the board to reduce their sentences.

A misunderstood eligibility rule appears to be the problem.

It recently came to light when Christopher Selectman, 30, who is serving a life sentence for gunning down a man during a drug deal when he was 16, asked for an application and was told he wasn’t entitled to one.

That’s because he was 18 – an adult – by the time he was sentenced, according to his prison case manager.

In his executive order establishing the juvenile clemency board last fall, Gov. Bill Ritter said it was designed for juvenile offenders who had been tried as adults.”

Read the rest from the Rocky Mountain News here.

US Houses Nearly 25% of the Prisoners on the Planet

It’s an interesting observation that one of the things we’re most proud of in this country, our democratic form of government, may be part of the reason we have come to be so draconian in our sentencing practices. The trend since the 1970’s to get tough on crime may well be influenced more than it ought to be by the fact that our lawmakers are elected officials who tend to act in accordance with the demands of their constituents.

Our reputation as a country to emulate continues to suffer. This article in the New York Times provides more insight.

It used to be that Europeans came to the United States to study its prison systems. They came away impressed.

“In no country is criminal justice administered with more mildness than in the United States,” Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured American penitentiaries in 1831, wrote in “Democracy in America.”

No more.

“Far from serving as a model for the world, contemporary America is viewed with horror,” James Q. Whitman, a specialist in comparative law at Yale, wrote last year in Social Research. “Certainly there are no European governments sending delegations to learn from us about how to manage prisons.”

Prison sentences here have become “vastly harsher than in any other country to which the United States would ordinarily be compared,” Michael H. Tonry, a leading authority on crime policy, wrote in “The Handbook of Crime and Punishment.”

Indeed, said Vivien Stern, a research fellow at the prison studies center in London, the American incarceration rate has made the United States “a rogue state, a country that has made a decision not to follow what is a normal Western approach.”

Why do you think we now lead the world in incarceration, and what do you think should be done about it?

The Dog Program in Canon City

Like many people, I was intrigued by the photos of Cheryl Armstrong with the dogs in prison. I have never visited a prison in Colorado, and I didn’t know anything about the dog training program that was established a number of years ago. I asked Cheryl about it and this is what she wrote to me:

“For almost two years of my incarceration I was on the dog program. The program actually got its start with 5 dogs at my facility over 6 years ago. It quickly expanded to 15 people here and is now in numerous facilities in Colorado. The [inmates’] beds are raised up so a kennel can fit under them. There are two types of dogs that come through the program — rescued dogs who are homeless and adopted out (after being trained), and dogs whose families have paid for them to be trained. Each inmate has one dog in her cell and her job is to train it. A dog is here 4-6 weeks, usually. Continue reading

Fundraiser for Dunbar Village Victims

Denver author Carleen Brice brought a fundraising initiative that was started by a number of writers to my attention. Author Tayari Jones has started an effort to help the mother and her son who were brutalized by a large number of juveniles in West Palm Beach, Florida this past June.
The attack was particularly brutal and is difficult to read. The story is here.
A group of authors are auctioning off signed books and for aspiring writers, manuscript critiques on ebay here.
If you’re not inclined to bid on any of the items, I hope you will consider sending a check to help the family.
Here’s the information on how to contribute to the victims:

Individuals who would like to donate money to the victims can go to any Wachovia Bank and donate to the St. Ann’s Victim’s Assistance Fund. Donations will go directly to the mother and her son.

St. Ann’s Catholic Church will accept donations. Checks can be made payable to the “Dunbar Village Victim Assistance Fund – St. Ann’s”. Donations can be mailed to: St. Ann’s Catholic Church, 310 N. Olive Avenue, West Palm Beach, FL 33401

National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers

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. Continue reading