Last week I returned from three months of maternity leave. While I was away, I was able to spend precious time with my dear daughter, Clara, and take a step back to reflect on where we are in our movement to end extreme sentencing for children.
I knew that my colleagues at the CFSY and around the country were working tirelessly to defend the spirit of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Miller v. Alabama decision by challenging narrow interpretations of the decision. Some policymakers have rushed to enact the next most extreme sentence in place of mandatory life without parole for children, which Miller struck down nearly a year ago. Meanwhile, attorneys have been battling over whether Miller applies retroactively to the several thousand people serving mandatory life-without-parole sentences for crimes committed as youth.
This Mothers’ Day, many mothers are cautious in their hopes that Miller will indeed mean that their children previously sentenced to die in prison will someday get a chance to return home.
We anticipated these kinds of challenges in the wake of Miller because the changes required by the Court represent a shift that some are inclined to resist. Rather than automatically assigning children permanent judgments, the Court has said children’s age, role in crime, history and other factors should be considered when holding them accountable.
We know that it will take years to unravel the decades-old system that ignores the fundamental differences between children and adults and allows children, in America alone, to be sentenced to die in prison. So, while we continue to work in partnership with attorneys, advocates and others to advance positive reforms, defeat harmful ones and achieve incremental successes in the legislatures and courts, we know this is just one part of a longer term effort that is necessary to bring about meaningful, lasting reform.
In order to keep the momentum going toward enactment of fair sentences for children, we are focused on further humanizing this issue, educating policymakers and judges and broadening support for reforms that uphold the dignity and human rights of our children.
And as I approach my first Mothers’ Day as a mother myself, I will stand with the courageous mothers of the thousands of youth our society has declared unworthy of a life outside the confines of prison walls, and dare to hope along with them that our country can, and MUST do better by our children. Join us.
For up-to-the-minute updates regarding state legislation, please contact Daniel Gutman at firstname.lastname@example.org or LaShunda Hill at email@example.com. For information about court action, please contact John Hardenbergh at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jody Kent Lavy
Director & National Coordinator