Make restorative justice services available to all victims, says mother of woman killed by teens

It has been nearly 30 years since two 15-year-old boys killed my daughter, Cathy.

One of those misguided teens, Gary Brown, was released from prison approximately six years ago. As we observe National Victim Rights Awareness Week through Saturday (April 16), I am grateful that Gary has a new chance to live a productive life and want to see the same for other youths who make serious mistakes but grow, change and prove that they are ready to be reintegrated into society.

I also am reminded of the importance of restorative justice efforts that can bring offenders face to face with the people they have harmed and can lead to healing for everyone involved. Over the coming months and years, people who were sentenced as children or youth to life in prison without the possibility of parole will be considered for parole or sentencing adjustments. This is the result of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, which found that it is unconstitutional to impose mandatory life-without-parole sentences upon kids. It is my hope that restorative justice, counseling and other needed services can become available to all family members of victims.

Cathy died in November of 1986. She and the man she was dating had just returned from an out-of-state trip when they dropped by our home for dinner so that Cathy could introduce him to her father and me. After they left, my husband and I realized that Cathy’s fiancé was the son of the doctor who was her pediatrician when we lived in Colorado. Although it was late, I could not wait to tell Cathy, so I phoned her. It was our last conversation.

Two days later, we learned she had been killed. Gary and the other boy arrested and charged in her death were certified to stand trial as adults. I was initially pleased when they both were sentenced to long terms in prison.

Losing Cathy transformed my life. It led me to study death, dying, grief and loss. I also focused on my family’s healing rather than revenge.

After a few years, I read about restorative justice.  Once I understood more about our justice system and that restorative justice is a different model, it changed me and how I felt about sentencing and redemption. I realized that our system of accountability too often responds to violence with more violence. In contrast, restorative justice is non-violent. It assures accountability by offering offenders face-to-face meetings with the families whose lives have been devastated by their actions, if those families so choose and all are adequately prepared.  For many victims, the greatest healing comes through this interaction. And it is not easy for offenders. Many have told me that the most difficult thing they have ever done is sit across from the people they have harmed, even more difficult than serving time in prison

I eventually earned a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University. In time, I would teach college courses on these topics for Sam Houston State University, both in prison and on campus. I also became an advocate for banning life without parole and other extreme sentences for children. Currently, I participate in a victim-offender encounter program in prisons. As a person of faith, I consider this my personal ministry.

Thankfully, there is growing momentum for reform. Opinion leaders and policymakers as diverse as President Carter, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, conservative columnist George Will and Pope Francis have called for changes in the ways we hold children accountable.

I believe people can change, especially people who have done things as a child. As any parent knows, children and teens often make bad decisions. This is because their brains are not yet fully developed and they lack the capacity to think through the long-term impacts of their actions. This is compounded for children who have been exposed to traumas such as abuse and neglect, which is the sad reality for many of the children who face these sentences. Gary and I first met 15 years ago in a mediated dialogue. I discovered a young man whose early life had been one of abuse and neglect, a world apart from that of my childhood and that of my children. Though he offered no excuses for his actions, what he told me helped me to understand how he could have committed such a tragic deed and enabled me to place my daughter’s murder in a larger context. His total remorse was an incredibly healing encounter for me.

I was pleased when Gary was released from prison in 2009 as part of an effort to ease prison overcrowding. He had served 23 years of a 54-year sentence. He is a remarkably different person than he was as a teenager. He is proof that young people, even those who have done horrible things, can transform. Gary continues to demonstrate that he is deeply sorry for the pain he caused, and I am doing all that I can to help others like him when they leave prison.

Dr. Linda While lives in Magnolia, Texas.

April 15, 2016

 

 

 

 

Utah bans life without parole for children

Utah has banned the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law HB 405, which was sponsored by Rep. V. Lowry Snow. Utah is the second state to ban the practice this year, following South Dakota. They join states such as Wyoming, Nevada and West Virginia in implementing less punitive accountability measures for children.

“Utah’s criminal justice system has long recognized the fundamental difference between children and adult offenders,” said Rep. Snow. “Passage of HB 405 is an expression of that important recognition and it provides a clear statement of Utah’s policy regarding the treatment of children placed in custody for serious offenses.”

This law brings to 16 the number of states that ban life-without-parole sentences for people who were younger than 18 at the time of their crimes. In five other states, life without parole is banned in for children under most circumstances.

“By banning life without parole for children, Utah policymakers affirmed that we are all more than the worst thing we have ever done,” said Jody Kent Lavy, director and national coordinator at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “Adolescent development research affirms that children – even those who commit serious crimes — possess a unique capacity for change and rehabilitation. Rather than sentencing them to die in prison, we should hold children who commit serious crimes accountable in ways that account for their age at the time of the crime, relevant childhood experiences, and their capacity for change.”

The U.S. Supreme Court, drawing in part on adolescent development research, has said that children are “constitutionally different” from adults and should not be subject to our country’s harshest penalties.

“No child is beyond redemption, which is why youth should never be sentenced to die in prison,” said Xavier McElrath-Bey, youth justice advocate at the CFSY. “I am proof of this. Like many of the people serving these sentences, I experienced severe abuse and neglect as a child. Unfortunately, I joined a gang for a sense of family, and at 13, I was responsible for the tragic death of another child. Today, at age 40, I live out my eternal apology by giving back to my community and fighting for the rights and integrity of all children in the justice system. Fortunately, the children of Utah will now too have the opportunity to prove that they are better than their worst act.”

The CFSY, which advocates for age-appropriate, trauma-informed accountability for children, worked with advocates, legislators and others in Utah to provide education and information about the need for change in juvenile sentencing laws and practices.

“I am so proud to live in a state where the legislature and our community recognize children are different from adults, said Pamela Vickery, executive director of the Utah Juvenile Defender Resource Center. “We still have work to do but HB405 is of great significance because it recognizes the unique children and circumstances we see in the justice system, as well as embraces as a community a broader policy and approach toward how we treat the children and families we see.  The work by the Campaign for Fair Sentencing and legislators like Representative Snow have had an enormous impact for the children of Utah.”

Pictured above, from left: James Dold, CFSY advocacy director; Utah Rep. V. Lowry Snow, who sponsored HB 405; Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives Greg Hughes; Xavier McElrath-Bey, CFSY youth justice advocate.

Fairsentencingofyouth.org

Contact:
James D. Ross II
Director of Communications
Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth
202-289-4677, ext. 17 (office)
504-906-9123 (mobile)
jross@fairsentencingofyouth.org

 

South Dakota bans life without parole for children

South Dakota has banned the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed SB 140 sponsored by Sen. Craig Tieszen, into law on Wednesday. In making this change, South Dakota joins states such as Wyoming, Nevada and West Virginia in implementing less punitive accountability measures for children.

“Every year I try to bring at least one bill that I truly believe in while knowing it will be a struggle,” said Sen. Tieszen. “I believe that children, even children who commit terrible crimes, can and do change. And, I believe they deserve a chance to demonstrate that change and become productive citizens. In the end, I gathered a very diverse set of legislators from across the political spectrum and passed the bill with solid margins.”

SB 140 eliminates all life sentences for people who were younger than 18 at the time of their crimes. Fifteen states now ban life-without-parole sentences for children.

“South Dakota is helping to lead important change in the ways that we hold our children accountable,” said Jody Kent Lavy, director and national coordinator at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “Teenagers who commit serious crimes will now have an opportunity after several years to demonstrate that they have been rehabilitated and are ready to re-enter society. Jurisprudence and adolescent development research document that appropriate sentences consider children’s age at the time of a crime, the trauma they have experienced and their capacity for change.”

The U.S. Supreme Court, drawing in part on adolescent development research, has said that children are “constitutionally different” from adults and should not be subject to our country’s harshest penalties.

The CFSY, which advocates for age-appropriate, trauma-informed accountability for children, worked with advocates, legislators and others in South Dakota to provide education and information about the need for change in juvenile sentencing laws and practices.

“The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth provided important testimony and support,” said Sen. Tieszen. “As important as the sentencing reform is, I think it is equally valuable that legislators had the opportunity to think differently about children’s capacity for change. The Campaign provided that important education and perspective.”

–END–

Join us on May 15 in Washington, D.C. for a JusticeAid concert benefiting the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. Tickets are available now!

 

 

 

Supreme Court affirms Miller Retroactivity in 6-3 Montgomery v. Louisiana Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday morning in Montgomery v. Louisiana by a 6-3 margin that its 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama, which ruled that mandatory life-without-parole sentences cannot be imposed on those were younger than 18 at the time of their offense, must be held retroactive. The decision drew heavily on Miller, gives thousands of people hope that they and their loved ones will receive a meaningful opportunity for release, and will help to ensure that the date of conviction will not be the difference between second chances and certain death in prison. regardless of the timing of anyone’s case.

Justice Kennedy delivered the majority opinion, which was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.

Find the opinion in its entirety linked here.

Further news coverage:

ABC News: Justices Extend Bar on Automatic Life Terms for Teenagers


The Supreme Court ruled Monday that people serving life terms for murders they committed as teenagers must have a chance to seek their freedom, a decision that could affect more than 1,000 inmates.

The justices voted 6-3 to extend a ruling from 2012 that struck down automatic life terms with no chance of parole for teenage killers. Now, even those who were convicted long ago must be considered for parole or given a new sentence.

Washington Post:Supreme Court: Juveniles sentenced to life have option for new reviews

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that those sentenced as teenagers to life imprisonment for murder must have a chance to argue that they be released from prison.

The court said its 2012 decision that struck down mandatory life imprisonment terms for juveniles must be applied retroactively. That would mean new sentencing or a chance to argue for parole, said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the 6-to-3 decision.

Xavier McElrath-Bey receives inaugural ICAN award

CFSY Youth Justice Advocate Xavier McElrath-Bey accepts a surprise award at the 2015 Healing & Hope Awards reception. The Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN) Healing & Hope Award recognized Xavier’s leadership in building a national network of formerly incarcerated youth and helping to shift the narrative about children who have spent time in prison. Xavier’s work is helping to demonstrate the accuracy of his motto “no child is born bad.”

Jeanne Bishop a 2015 Healing & Hope Award recipient

Jeanne Bishop’s pregnant sister and brother-in-law were killed by a teenager, who was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Jeanne has since become a leading advocate for banning the sentence and ensuring that all children have an opportunity for review. She is author of Change of Heart: Mercy, Justice and Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer. She was honored as a 2015 Healing & Hope Award recipient.

Chaudry a 2015 Healing & Hope Award recipient

Rabia Chaudry accepts the 2015 Healing & Hope Award. Rabia is the public advocate for Adnan Syed, who was sentenced to life in prison in Maryland at 17 and is the center of the global phenomenon podcast “Serial.” Rabia also is co-host of the podcast “Undisclosed.”

Andre Williams a 2015 Healing & Hope Award recipient

Andre Williams, of Washington, D.C., and his pro-bono attorneys from Arnold & Porter LLP, accept the 2015 Healing & Hope Award during the CFSY’s annual reception on November 10. Andre was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for drug-related crimes committed as a teenager. He became eligible for relief after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that it is unconstitutional to impose a life-without-parole sentence upon a child for a nonhomicide crime. Last year, attorneys at Arnold & Palmer secured Andre’s release after he had served 23 years.

Senate Judiciary Committee passes crime bill

The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth applauds Chairman Senator Chuck Grassley and the Senate Judiciary Committee for passing the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 from the committee today, October 22. We are hopeful that Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell will quickly move the bill to the Senate floor for a vote so that it can move to the House and the President’s desk before the end of the year.

Second Life

Chris Wilson takes a seat at a long wooden table in the University of Baltimore law library, 12 floors above Mt. Royal Avenue. He has the bright, airy space almost to himself in the mid-afternoon. Wearing a dark business suit, dress shirt, and wide-knotted, royal-purple tie, Wilson is all business as he lights up a MacBook Pro and bows his clean-shaven head to concentrate on the screen. His boyish face and alert brown eyes make him look younger than his 36 years, which is fitting because Wilson isn’t an attorney or law student, but an undergrad at UB’s Merrick School of Business, where he’ll complete his degree in business administration this December. Specializing in entrepreneurship, he has won business plan competitions, been named a Ratcliffe Scholar, and earned a place in the school’s rigorous Entrepreneurship Fellows Program.

In addition to his course load, Wilson is the founder, owner, and operator of the Barclay Investment Corporation—a small general contracting company—as well as the House of DaVinci, a startup furniture repair and upholstery business.

In short, he’s a busy man because he’s making up for lost time. In fact, Wilson isn’t supposed to be here at all. At 17, he killed a man. Tried as an adult for first-degree murder, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. By all odds, Wilson should still be serving time at Patuxent Institution in Jessup, where he served more than a decade of the 16 years he spent behind bars.

Read more

By Andrew Hazlett – October 2015