Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Life Without Parole...Our View

Monday, March 24, 2008

In Maryland
Sunday's Baltimore Sun had the editorial, "Life Without Parole - Our view: It's an inappropriate sentence for juveniles."

At 35, Marcus Tunstall has spent more than half his life in prison. It's unlikely he'll ever get out unless a governor intervenes or the law changes. That's because Mr. Tunstall is serving life without parole for a crime he committed while a minor. He is among 15 such men who entered Maryland's prison system under this unforgiving term. Arrested as adolescents, they were too young to join the Army, not old enough to buy liquor and ineligible to vote. And yet the state consigned them to an interminable existence; their prison stay will far exceed their years on the outside. It's a living death that harbors no chance for redemption.

The U.S. is the only country that imprisons juveniles without the possibility of parole. It's a sentence that defies the scientific research on teenagers' reasoning and potential for reform. Some states are finally realizing that and moving to repeal these laws. Maryland, unfortunately, is not among them.

Known as kid-lifers, juvenile offenders imprisoned under mandatory life-without-parole laws number about 2,300 in 39 states, according to a study by Northwestern University Law School's Children and Family Justice Center and the John Howard Association. Despite those staggering figures, only Nebraska, Florida, Michigan, Illinois and California are actively trying to change their laws on kid-lifers. Illinois' law came on the books more than 30 years ago as youth crime was increasing.

Maryland law allowed for a life-without-parole sentence for a juvenile convicted as an adult in 1988, following the Supreme Court's decision to exclude juveniles from the death penalty. Most of Maryland's kid-lifers entered prison at 17 or 16.

The juvenile index is here.

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