Juvenile sentencing has been an ongoing topic of discussion. Recently, in the Supreme court ruled that putting juveniles in prison for life without parole is cruel and unusual punishment for non-murderers. In the majority opinion Justice Anthony Kennedy said that “a life without parole sentence improperly denies the juvenile offender a chance to demonstrate growth and maturity.” This means that throughout the country roughly 150 inmates are eligible for lighter sentences. In addition courts across the county have begun to reduce the sentences of prisoners, allowing them to be eligible for parole. In addition attorneys hope to be able to get the supreme court to rule that this should also be the case for juvenile murderers. This is significant progress given that only five years ago, the court struck down capital punishment for juveniles.
However there are some who are against this new “leniency.” Scott Burns, head of the National District attorneys association says that “there are millions of young kids who do not commit outrageous crimes. To say we can excuse a small percentage who do just because their frontal lobe hasn’t developed is not persuasive.” However, as Neuroscience research shows, the Supreme Court says that juveniles are less able to control their behavior and more likely to be rehabilitated. Nonetheless, there are some states which are not easing up on Juvenile sentencing. New Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled 4-1 that it is constitutional to give a juvenile to get a 25 year sentence in an adult prison without a jury trial. In the case, juvenile probation officers stated that rehabilitation programs for older juvenile offenders were unavailable. This played an important role in determining his sentencing.
Overall, I think that the Supreme Court has taken the right step in making sure that juvenile defendants for non-murder cases are able to get parole. Juveniles are different from the rest of the prison population, in that their frontal lobes are not fully developed, meaning that they are not able to make the same decisions as those who are older. I think that the Justice system should do a much better job with rehabilitation programs for these youths, because they are the part of the prison population which would benefit the most from rehabilitation programs. A great example is John Daly, who recently has begun a set of classes called The Key Class, where he teaches juvenile inmates in California about social etiquette for success in both personal and professional situations. The classes are very basic and teach skills ranging from conversations on a phone to eating a meal, to body language. His classes many times are held in local restaurants and clothing stores, where he gives the students on the job training, and shows them how the can change to make life better for themselves. In addition, for many of these young people he is showing them that he cares, that he believes that they can succeed, which is something many of the juvenile criminals have never heard before. This comes back to the central argument of the criminal justice system; should prison be for rehabilitation or retribution? The answer lies in a kind of scale, one in which we still have to decide where we draw the line.