Sunday, April 12, 2015

All Children are Children

All Children are Children: Challenging Abusive Punishment of Juveniles is a report published by the Equal Justice Initiative. Here, EJI set three goals: to end the adult prosecution of any child under age 14; to end the placement of any juvenile under age 18 in an adult jail or prison; and to abolish life without parole and other excessive sentences imposed on children.

It is a heartbreaking report. Much of it centers on children younger than 14 who were sentenced to life or life without parole, and the Supreme Court's rulings in Graham v. Florida (banning juvenile LWOP for non-homicide offenses),  Roper v. Simmons (banning death penalty for children), and Miller v. Alabama. Miller found life without parole for two 14 year-old boys was unconstitutional.

Many of our clients have juvenile criminal history. Our clients' childhood encounters with the law need to be placed in context. Many were institutionalized from a young age. Often race or ethnicity factored into harsher treatment, or the absence of intermediate sanctions. Some were housed in adult jails. The lack of resources or family support often plays a role in the outcome.
14 year old boy sentenced to life imprisonment
without the possibility of parole

From this report:

> Fourteen states have no minimum age for
trying children as adults. Children as young as eight have been prosecuted as adults.

>Some 10,000 children are housed in adult jails and prisons on any given day in America.

> 70% of condemned kids under 14 are children of color.

From Graham v. Florida, "Juveniles are more capable of change than adults, and their actions are less likely to be evidence of ‘irretrievably depraved character’ than are the actions of adults. It remains true that ‘[f ]rom a moral standpoint it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor’s character deficiencies will be reformed."

All of this can help explain the sentencing court why the juvenile record may be unfair, or what impact the juvenile system had on our clients. The mere fact of a juvenile record fails to communicate the circumstances, the vulnerability of our clients' childhood, and the lasting damage from mistreatment in an adult system.

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