There has been a troubling shift in the nation’s responses to at-risk youth over the past 25 years. The creators of the juvenile justice system originally viewed it as a system for providing prevention, protection, and redirection to youth, but it is more common for juveniles today to experience tough sanctions and adult-type punishments instead. While reforms are underway in many places, there remains an urgent need to reframe our responses to juvenile delinquency.
Juvenile Justice News
December 4, 2013 (DesMoinesRegister.com)
Dying woman’s release is first of its kind in Iowa
Iowa’s parole board in the past has granted compassionate releases to inmates suffering from illnesses, board Chairman Jason Carlstrom said Tuesday.
However, Kristina Fetters’ case —she was convicted of first-degree murder as a juvenile now scheduled for release after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling — is the first of its kind in Iowa. Nationwide, such releases remain rare 1½ years after the ruling, an expert said.
The court made life sentences for juveniles illegal in its ruling in Miller v. Alabama in June 2012. In August, the Iowa Supreme Court in State v. Ragland determined that the Miller ruling applies “retroactively” to give young offenders currently serving life sentences a chance at parole.
Iowa currently has 38 young offenders serving life sentences.
Many state courts have not been as progressive as Iowa’s in determining that the Miller ruling applies retroactively, said Ashley Nellis, a senior research analyst with The Sentencing Project. The Washington, D.C., group researches and advocates for reforms to sentencing laws.
“There’s been a lot of resistance across the country to complying with the Miller ruling,” she said. “It’s terrible that it takes terminal cancer to get anyone’s attention when it should really just take the Miller ruling.”
December 2, 2013 (C-Span)
Reforming Prison Sentencing
Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, talked about the changing political climate for criminal justice reform on C-Span and why he believes the expanding growth and cost of the U.S. prison system has contributed to an increased desire for reform. He also spoke about the findings of his organization on the rapid growth of life sentencing and the impact of the federal drug ban on welfare families. Watch here.
November 20, 2013 (The Sentencing Project)
New Publication: Life Goes On: The Historic Rise in Life Sentences in America
While serious crime rates in the U.S. have been declining for the last 20 years, the number of prisoners serving life sentences has more than quadrupled since 1984. As documented in our new report, over 159,000 people were serving life sentences in 2012, with nearly 50,000 serving life without parole.
November 11, 2013 (The Clarion-Ledger)
Supreme Court ruling could give man, sentenced to life without parole as juvenile, another chance
Paul Murrell Stewart was 17 when he and Edwin Hart Turner, 23, robbed a convenience store. Turner shot and killed two people, was found guilty of murder and executed, but Stewart, now 35, remains behind bars at Parchman. That may change if a jury decides he should be eligible for parole.
Stewart’s attorney, Hiram Eastland III, said he believes the sentencing of his childhood friend, known as “Murrell,” was excessive.
“If you do something wrong, sure, you should get punished for that,” Eastland said. “But life without parole for somebody like Murrell — somebody 17 years old? It just didn’t seem fair to throw a life away.”
According to The Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., more than 10,000 people have been convicted of crimes before they were 18 and nearly one in four of them were sentenced to life without parole.
November 5, 2013 (The Virginian-Pilot)
Life Times Six
Travion Blount might be serving the harshest punishment delivered to any American teenager for a crime not involving murder, experts say.
The 15-year-old robbed a Norfolk party with two older gang members. He hurt no one. His friends got 10 and 13 years. How is it that he received 118 years and six life sentences for his part in the robbery?
As it now stands, Blount will die in prison. Blount is one of at least 22 Virginia inmates doing life for a nonhomicide crime they committed as teens, according to the state Department of Corrections.
His case, and others like it, are forcing judges and lawmakers to ask: Can a young criminal life be redeemed?
Blount’s advocates argue his six life sentences for an armed robbery violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
“Nobody’s asking to let him out tomorrow,” said his attorney, John Coggeshall. He wants a new sentence for his client, comparable to the codefendants’. The older defendants – who, according to testimony, led the robbery – pleaded guilty and received the lesser sentences.