I’m sure most of us are aware of the high number of crimes our youths (boys and girls) are committing all over the U.S., as well as the high number of youth deaths as a result of these violent crimes. I’m also sure most of us have been involved personally in one way or the other with a youth involved in the legal system, on probation, in a juvenile detention center, in a boot camp, in prison or who has lost their life to violence. Everyday our youth are being prosecuted as adults.
Do you know the U.S. is the only country in the United Nations that voted against abolishing life imprisonment (without parole) for youth because our youth criminals are the worst in the world? According to a report produced by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), (a non-profit group dedicated to helping prisoners denied fair treatment by the system), American prisons are home to 73 children inmates locked up for the rest of their lives for crimes they committed when they were 13 or 14-years old (7 are children of color sentenced to die in prison for crimes in which no one was killed), and 2,225 juvenile inmates locked up for the rest of their lives for crimes they committed when they were 17-years old or younger.
Some youth confess as a result of duress or from being developmentally disabled. These youths are neglected and deprived in lock down without hope. What’s worst is few of our youths’ cases are ever reviewed and the majority of the youth are overwhelmingly poor and receive poor legal representation, if any at all.EJI found nearly two-thirds of youth serving these sentences are children of color. Most of these children come from violent and dysfunctional backgrounds; have been physically and sexually abused, neglected and abandoned. They grew up in lethally violent and extremely poor areas where they could not afford health and safety. These youth feel police, family courts, child protection agencies, foster systems and health care providers have let them down. The adult criminal justice system subjects them to mandatory sentencing, ignoring the child’s circumstances and the offense in imposing the harshest sentence available. EJI is calling for these cases to be reviewed and sentences reconsidered. Chances are youth who commit serious crimes have been the victim or has witnessed a similar heinous crime.
According to the Equal Justice Coalition, sentencing young children to imprisonment until death violates the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and is also counter to international conventions. EJI cites the scientific research that has shown the areas of adolescents’ brains that govern impulse control regulating emotions, risk assessment and moral reasoning are all still underdeveloped.
Society has numerous opinions regarding our youth committing crimes and going to prison. One thing for sure is society cannot afford to give up on ideas or hope on how to save our youth. Society has a duty to help, guide and nurture our children.
I do know it depends on the personal decision of the youth as an individual to obey the law or not. After a certain age, our youth are fully aware of the difference between wrong and right, and how to be a law abiding citizen. Society has a duty to make sure each youth stays focused on the right path, seeking spiritual guidance, avoiding peer pressure and living life in a manner which will keep them on the outside of prison bars and out of the cemeteries. The same way adults have to abide by the law or face the consequences, youth are expected to do the same.
The Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama is a private, nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners. Their study echoes and reinforces the findings of the Children’s Defense Fund’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline® report, a national call to action to prevent and divert children and youth from a trajectory that leads to marginalized lives, imprisonment and even premature death. They work to draw attention to these children and its nationwide campaign to challenge and end these harsh sentences which are valuable contributions to dismantling the Pipeline to Prison. To learn more about the Equal Justice Initiative and their crucial work, visit http://www.eji.org/.