Megan Buchanan2016-09-30 14:53:542016-09-30 14:53:54People told as youth that they would die in prison are coming home
Every week lately, I receive an email, text message or phone call with news of the release of someone told as a child that he or she would die in prison. These individuals and hundreds more have been granted a second chance at life because of recent reforms by state lawmakers and the U.S. Supreme Court, which have reduced and abolished life sentences for children. We are deeply heartened to welcome home those who have served their debts to society and maintained hope of one day reuniting with their families and communities.
And there is more work to be done to ensure that everyone serving one of these unconstitutional sentences has a meaningful opportunity for release. We must make certain that Montgomery v. Louisiana, which made retroactive the Supreme Court’s 2012 ban on mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children, is appropriately implemented. With this as a priority, the Campaign recently hired a new Montgomery Implementation Coordinator. We have been working with advocates in states most impacted by the ruling and fostering engagement with pro-bono attorneys who can represent individuals at resentencing and in parole hearings. We also are beginning to develop relationships with parole board officials who will hear and consider these re-sentencing cases.
At the same time, we continue to work with elected officials, demonstrating the wisdom of holding children accountable in more age-appropriate ways. These reforms are experiencing broad, bi-partisan support. Currently, the Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016 is advancing before the D.C. Council. The bill would ban life without parole sentences for children and provide for sentencing review opportunities. It has broad support and the Judiciary Committee is expected to vote it in early October. As part of our advocacy efforts in support of its passage, the Campaign organized family members of people who would be impacted by the bill to testify in favor of it alongside us.
Yet, we are aware that much work remains. Some states, such as Virginia, are going to extreme measures to avoid following the spirit and letter of the Montgomery decision. This month, pro-bono lawyers with whom we partner argued before the Fourth Circuit Court and the Virginia Supreme Court that the state must abide by this ruling from the country’s highest court.
The battles will continue, but we are winning. We are grateful for your partnership and look forward to our journey together as we ensure that no child is ever condemned to die in prison.
Jody Kent Lavy