The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth has joined with the Healing Justice Coalition and our faith-based partners and supporters to observe Juvenile Justice Week of Faith and Healing on March 4 through 11. The week is an opportunity to engage faith leaders and people of faith on issues of juvenile justice. It focuses on raising awareness of individual, community, and social needs arising from the current juvenile justice system.
Twenty-one years ago, a 17-year-old youth kidnapped my 15-year-old son, Jeremy Drake. Within hours, my son had been shot to death in a park in northeast Omaha. That youth, Jeremy Herman, and a 19-year-old were later convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
My son was a kind and compassionate child. He was a good student; he worked hard and had many friends. He earned his own money to buy a guitar. At 15, he was already an accomplished musician. As the oldest child in a single-parent home, he took on many responsibilities helping me and his younger three siblings.
Wyoming Governor Matt Mead signed House Bill 23 into law on February 14, 2013, abolishing sentences of life in prison without parole for children in that state.
We applaud Governor Mead for his action on this issue, which means Wyoming will no longer sentence people to die in prison for crimes that were committed when they were younger than 18.
Under Wyoming’s new law, which will be effective on July 1, children in the state who are convicted of first degree murder will be eligible for parole or can have their sentences commuted to a term of years.
By passing this new law, Wyoming takes a step forward in demonstrating that our society can hold young people accountable for serious crimes without discarding them for the rest of their lives. This bill is the step in the right direction in recognizing that children are categorically different from adults, and must be treated accordingly when sentenced.
In 2005, the Supreme Court prohibited the death penalty for children younger than 18, acknowledging that youthfulness is an important factor in determining whether a punishment is cruel and unusual. Then in 2010, the Supreme Court struck down the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without parole when their crimes did not result in a death. And in June 2012, the Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole for children are unconstitutional.
Everyone is better than their worst act, particularly children. We encourage policymakers throughout the country who are working to implement the Miller v. Alabama decision to think holistically about how their state can hold young people accountable in a manner that reflects their unique ability to change and focuses on rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
Here is a link to the law:
The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth is a member of the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition, a collaboration of many organizations working together to develop consensus on federal youth policy. We hope you will join with us in promoting safe communities.
As we continue to work to replace life without parole sentences for youth and other extreme sentences with age-appropriate accountability that focuses on rehabilitation and reentry into society, these recommendations include a number of specific points that could help to further transform sentencing practices. Please consider further engaging as suggested below by the coalition.
Members of the NJJDPC steering committee and task force chairs will deliver these to President Obama, key contacts at OMB, DOJ (OJP and OJJDP), Ed and HHS.
The NJDC has published the new National Juvenile Defense Standards, which are relevant for every lawyer representing youths at all stages of a case, whether in juvenile or adult court. Section VIII deals with the role of counsel when a child client faces the risk of adult prosecution.
By L.L. Brasier, Detroit Free Press
A federal judge ruled unconstitutional Michigan laws that send juveniles convicted of murder to prison for life and ordered that the 350 juvenile lifers in the state have a chance at parole.
In issuing his ruling this afternoon, Judge John Corbett O’Meara noted the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that juveniles can’t be treated as adults, and as such, can’t be sentenced as adults to life behind bars.
The Michigan Court of Appeals, in a ruling late last year, said the decision did not apply retroactively.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops today announced that it has endorsed the principles of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. The USCCB is ” is an assembly of the hierarchy of the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands who jointly exercise certain pastoral functions on behalf of the Christian faithful of the United States.” It is comprised of 454 active and retired Catholic bishops who lead Dioceses and Archdioceses throughout the country.
The full text of the news release follows.
DATE: January 30, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
BISHOPS’ COMMITTEE JOINS CALL TO END LIFE SENTENCES WITHOUT PAROLE FOR CHILDREN
WASHINGTON – A committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has endorsed the principles of a national campaign to end the practice of sentencing people under the age of 18 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development agreed to endorse the Statement of Principles for the Fair Sentencing of Youth at their December 2012 meeting.
“While there is no question that violent and dangerous youth need to be confined for their safety and that of society, the USCCB does not support provisions that treat children as though they are equal to adults in their moral and cognitive development,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the committee. “Life sentences without parole eliminate the opportunity for rehabilitation or second chances.”
In their 2000 document, “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice,” the bishops wrote, “Placing children in adult jail is a sign of failure, not a solution.”
More than 100 organizations have endorsed the Statement of Principles of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, including a diverse array of faith-based organizations such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. Supporters also include groups representing law enforcement officials, victims’ families, mental health experts, parents, teachers and child welfare advocates.
“We welcome the opportunity to partner with USCCB, a national leader defending the rights of our most vulnerable,” said Jody Kent Lavy, director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “We support the Church’s efforts to promote the greater good by ensuring that children are held accountable for the harm that they have caused in age-appropriate ways that uphold their human dignity and focus on rehabilitation and reintegration into society.”
The federal government and 38 states allow youth convicted of a crime to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Currently, over 2,500 youth are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. African American youth are sentenced to life without parole as children at a per capita rate that is 10 times that of white youth convicted of the same crimes. The United States is the only country that imposes this sentence upon children.
By Scott Stump, TODAY
After their daughter was murdered in a fit of rage by her fiancee in 2010, a Florida couple decided to do the hardest thing possible – forgive him.
Instead of pushing for a life sentence for their daughter’s killer, Andy and Kate Grosmaire chose to pursue a process called restorative justice, which they learned about after a church friend referred them to an Episcopal priest who works in the Florida prison system. An alternative to a criminal trial, restorative justice gathers the families of both parties, the accused, and law enforcement in the same room to talk about the crime and determine how best to repair the damage done.
The Grosmaires met with Conor McBride, who had admitted to police that he had shot their daughter, Ann Grosmaire, with his father’s shotgun on March 28, 2010, after two days of arguing with her. McBride’s parents were also part of the process, which began while Ann was still on life support for four days after being shot before she died.
By Paul Tullis, The New York Times, January 4, 2013
At 2:15 in the afternoon on March 28, 2010, Conor McBride, a tall, sandy-haired 19-year-old wearing jeans, a T-shirt and New Balance sneakers, walked into the Tallahassee Police Department and approached the desk in the main lobby. Gina Maddox, the officer on duty, noticed that he looked upset and asked him how she could help. “You need to arrest me,” McBride answered. “I just shot my fiancée in the head.” When Maddox, taken aback, didn’t respond right away, McBride added, “This is not a joke.”