• By Matt Murphy
    State House News Service 

    Posted Jul. 15, 2014 @ 5:33 pm
    Updated Jul 15, 2014 at 5:36 PM 

    BOSTON -- House and Senate negotiators reached a deal Tuesday on sentencing reforms for juvenile murderers to establish a three-tiered system for parole eligibility after state and federal courts struck down life sentences without parole as unconstitutional.
    A six-member panel filed a compromise bill ( H 4307) on Tuesday afternoon that would make juveniles – aged 14 to 17 – convicted of first degree murder eligible for parole are serving 20 to 30 years of their life sentence in prison.
    In cases involving premeditation, juveniles would face 25 years to 30 years in prison before becoming parole eligible or a minimum of 30 years in murders with “extreme atrocity or cruelty.”
    “It reflects a compromise and the diversity of views in both bodies and I think it’s a reasonable place to be,” said Sen. William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat and Senate chair of the Judiciary Committee, who led negotiations for the Senate.
    The bill represents a blending of the approaches taken separately by the House and Senate, adopting Senate-backed sentencing guidelines for first degree murder and especially horrific slayings and incorporating the House’s preference for creating a separate category for premeditated murder.
    The conference committee elected not to include changes to the amount of time a convicted murderer would have to wait between parole hearings if they are denied early release, leaving the five-year waiting period untouched.
    “I think it’s the right outcome on the setback,” said Brownsberger, who originally proposed a 10-year waiting period before it was changed during debate in the Senate.
    The conference committee’s recommendations, which are not subject to amendment, will go first to the House.  Both branches have formal sessions scheduled for Wednesday
    “I expect it will be moved along quickly given all the things we need to do,” Brownsberger said.
    Rep. Christopher Markey, who led the House negotiating team, could not immediately be reached for comment.
    All six lawmakers on the conference committee signed off on the compromise. The committee also included Reps. Garrett Bradley (D-Hingham) and Bradford Hill (R-Ipswich) and Sens. Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster) and Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester).
    Earlier in the session Senate Minority Tarr and Sen. Barry Finegold, an Andover Democrat, filed legislation with 19 co-sponsors in the House and Senate seeking to set a mandatory prison period of 35 years served before a juvenile murderer could become parole eligible.
    The bill does not propose to make any sentencing changes for adults convicted of first or second degree murder.
    At the start of the year, there were 63 juveniles in the Massachusetts prison system serving life without parole.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 struck down life sentences without parole for juvenile murders on the grounds that they violated the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
The state Supreme Judicial Court followed up that ruling on Christmas Eve 2013 with a decision that found life sentences for juvenile murderers in violation of the state’s constitutional prohibition on cruel or unusual punishment because there are neurological and psychological differences between juveniles and adults. The ruling overturned a 1996 statute that allowed juveniles 14 years or older charged with murder to be tried as an adult.
Following the court decisions, sentences in Massachusetts for juveniles convicted of murder defaulted to 15 years before becoming parole eligible.
Some activists and juvenile court judges, including the Coalition for Fair Sentencing of Youth, pushed for parole eligibility to remain at 15 years because of developmental differences between juvenile brains and adult brains and the potential for effective rehabilitation.
Source: http://www.tauntongazette.com/article/2014...

Originally posted July 23rd By JOHN DAVIS

We explore the practice of sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole in the U.S. More than 2,500 inmates in America’s prison system are serving life terms for crimes committed as juveniles. We’ll talk with the filmmaker behind the POV (Point of View) documentary “15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story” which premieres August 4th on PBS. The film documents the story of one Tampa-area man charged with four back-to-back life sentences for his role in a string of robberies committed when he was 14 years old at the behest of his mother’s 24 year old crack dealer.

The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Graham v. Florida finds that life sentences for juveniles for crimes other than murder are unconstitutional, which could make Kenneth eligible for early release. Through Kenneth’s story, we’ll explore whether society is served by sentencing juveniles to life in prison and other revelations about our justice system.


Nadine Pequeneza, Director/Producer of POV Documentary ‘15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story”

Program Schedule on WGCU-TV:

  1. Thursday, August 7, 03:00 pm on WGCU WORLD 
    TV 30.2 
    Cable 201
     - READ MORE
  2. Saturday, August 9, 12:00 pm on WGCU WORLD 
    TV 30.2 
    Cable 201
     - READ MORE
  3. Sunday, August 10, 03:00 am on WGCU HD 
    TV 30.1 
    Cable 3 / 440
     - READ MORE
Source: http://news.wgcu.org/post/teens-serving-li...

Originally posted July 8th 2014 by Paul Egan 

Michigan juveniles sentenced to mandatory life without parole prior to the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama do not have to get new sentencing hearings, the Michigan Supreme Court said in a 4-3 opinion. / Jason Karas/Detroit Free Press

Michigan juveniles sentenced to mandatory life without parole prior to the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama do not have to get new sentencing hearings, the Michigan Supreme Court said in a 4-3 opinion. / Jason Karas/Detroit Free Press

LANSING — A U.S. Supreme Court decision that makes mandatory life sentences without parole unconstitutional for juveniles should not be applied retroactively, a divided Michigan Supreme Court said Tuesday in a ruling that brought joy to some families shattered by horrific crimes, but heartbreak to others.

Michigan juveniles sentenced to mandatory life without parole prior to the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama do not have to get new sentencing hearings, the court said in a 4-3 opinion.

The ruling is a defeat for more than 300 Michigan inmates serving mandatory life sentences without parole for murders committed when they were teenagers.

And it was a victory for Attorney General Bill Schuette, who argued that families who went through the sentencing hearings once should not be subjected to the same trauma a second time.

For survivors of Dave VanBogelen of Muskegon, who was bludgeoned to death by two teenagers in 1990, the ruling was an answered prayer.

“It was a brutal and heinous crime ... and they didn’t care,” said Amanda McGregor, 31, of Grand Haven, whose father’s two teenage killers are serving life without parole.

“The only time they cried was when they got life sentences. There wasn’t any remorse. They took my dad when I was 7 years old. My brother was 12. My mom had to raise us by herself. They don’t deserve to walk the same streets that my children and I do.”

McGregor’s father was 34 when two teenagers met him at a bar, lured him back to their Muskegon Heights apartment and then stabbed him to death after robbing him of $1,500 and his Ford Ranger pickup.

The 19-year-old stabbed him to death; his 16-year-old girlfriend hit him over the head with a bottle and helped clean up the mess.

The then-teen couple were sentencedin 1991.

McGregor’s brother, David VanBogelen, who carries his father’s name, said his family was not prepared to go through another sentencing.

“I’m glad it’s over,” VanBogelen said. “They took away from us something that can never be replaced. Their freedom is the least that they can give up for that. ... They don’t deserve another chance.”

But Amanda Jones of Grand Rapids, whose ex-husband Anthony Jones is serving a life sentence without parole for a 1979 Kalamazoo County killing committed when he was 17, said the decision is “heartbreaking.”

“He was not the actual shooter,” said Jones, who married Anthony Jones for a short time after he went to prison. “He’s been in prison for 35 years.”

Jones has changed and been rehabilitated during that time and “everyone deserves a second chance,” she said.

Though the ruling comes from the highest court in Michigan, it does not settle the question, since related legal fights continue at the federal level and a Michigan case is now before the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Markman said the U.S. Supreme Court did not make sentences to life without parole unconstitutional for juveniles. It only made automatic life sentences unconstitutional for juveniles and required a different sentencing procedure to be followed to determine whether such a sentence is appropriate.

Because the change mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court is only procedural, and it doesn’t alter the range of possible sentences, the ruling should not be applied retroactively, said Markman, who was joined by Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. and Justices Brian Zahra and David Viviano.

Justice Mary Beth Kelly wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Michael Cavanagh and Bridget McCormack.

Kelly said the U.S. Supreme Court did alter the range of sentences, because juveniles who could only get life without parole under the old system are now eligible for something less.

“Accordingly, we would hold that Miller applies retroactively under federal law,” Kelly wrote.

The decision broke mostly along partisan lines, with four GOP-nominated justices ruling against retroactivity. But Kelly, a former Wayne County Circuit Court judge who was nominated by Republicans, joined two Democratic nominees in writing the dissent.

One of the cases the justices considered was from 2006, when Raymond Carp, then 15, helped his half brother, Brandon Gorecki, then 22, murder May Ann McNeely, 43, in St. Clair County.

Gorecki delivered the fatal stab wounds, evidence showed. But Carp threw a mug at the woman and pulled the blinds closed while the killing happened.

Carp won’t get a new sentencing hearing based on Tuesday’s ruling.

Schuette, a Republican, said the ruling “should bring a measure of peace to the many families who struggled with the possibility of painful resentencing hearings for cases successfully prosecuted decades ago.”

Schuette has said many families of murder victims want the teenage killers locked up forever, as they were promised they would be at the time of sentencing.

For 67-year-old Patricia McLemore of Burton, whose son is serving a life sentence for a crime he committed when he was 16, the ruling was a devastating blow.

“I’m very disappointed,” McLemore said through tears. “(He) was just a child and really had no comprehension of (his) actions ... He just wants a second chance … and the fact that he didn’t actually commit the crime but was just an accessory — it shouldn’t be this way.”

Patrick McLemore and a 19-year-old broke into a Burton home to rob it. A 67-year-old man wound up beaten to death. Patrick said that when he entered the home, his co-defendant already had killed the man.

Still, Patrick got a life sentence in 2000 after a jury convicted him of first-degree murder. His co-defendant, Nathan Reid, got 37½ to 50 years after pleading no contest to a lesser murder charge.

McLemore said she understands the outrage and pain victims’ families experience when violent crimes happen. But she still doesn’t believe her son deserves to die in prison, saying he has matured a lot behind bars — earning a degree in small business management — and still has a lot to offer the world.

“I get both sides. That’s what’s so hard,” McLemore said. “I feel for them, and I feel for us.”

Patrick’s 22-year-old brother, Samuel Doyle II, said he believes his brother’s punishment is “just too harsh.”

“He was was definitely just a kid. He was a child. The human brain isn’t even developed (at 16),” Doyle said, noting Patrick “got a worse sentence than the actual murderer. Where’s the justice?”

Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Michigan, which filed a brief in the case, said the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to settle the issue, since seven states have differed with Michigan in finding that the Miller case is retroactive.

A separate case, about whether such juveniles are entitled to parole hearings, is now before the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Korobkin said.

The Michigan Catholic Conference expressed disappointment with the ruling.

“We call upon the Legislature to pass a measure that will allow for juveniles sentenced to a life term before the Miller decision to have the opportunity for a parole hearing at some point during their sentence,” the conference said in a news release.

“Our position is driven by the need to balance compassion and protection for victims with the opportunity for offenders to rehabilitate their lives, which should be the goal of the corrections system.”

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or pegan@freepress.com

Source: http://www.freep.com/article/20140708/NEWS...

Originally posted on June 25th 2014 by Steven Hsieh 

A juvenile offender mops the floor during his work program at Circleville Youth Center in Ohio. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

A juvenile offender mops the floor during his work program at Circleville Youth Center in Ohio. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Exactly two years after the US Supreme Court ruled against mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of murder, the majority of states affected by the ruling have not passed laws banning the practice, according to a report by the Sentencing Project.

The Supreme Court ruled five-to-four in Miller v. Arizona that mandatory life without parole (LWOP) sentences for minors violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In her majority opinion, Justice Kagan cited research that found that “only a relatively small proportion of adolescents who experiment in risky or illegal activities develop entrenched patterns of problem behavior that persist into adulthood.”

Only thirteen of twenty-eight states that had locked up minors for life without a chance for release have passed laws to comply with the Court’s decision. Several of the states that amended their sentencing laws, however, set lengthy requirements that some juvenile advocates are still calling inhumane. For example, both Texas and Nebraska set new minimum sentences of forty years, practically guaranteeing that some juvenile offenders will spend the majority of their lives behind bars.

“It appears that many states are disregarding the spirit of the Court’s ruling. Of the states that have passed legislative responses to Miller, many replaced their laws with sentences that are as nearly as narrow-minded,” said Ashley Nellis, a senior analyst at the Sentencing Project, in a statement.

The Miller decision did not determine whether the estimated 2,000 prisoners already serving mandatory LWOP sentences would be eligible for re-sentencing. Ten of the twenty-eight affected states have addressed this issue, passing laws or issuing court decisions that apply Millerretroactively.

The Sentencing Project's report notes that states do not necessarily have to pass new legislation to comply with Miller, but 

States’ practices of sending children to die in prison puts the United States at odds with international standards. In fact, ours is the only nation in the world that sends minors to die in prison, and is one of few that refuses to sign the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which bans the practice.

(CORRECTION, 6/26/2014): An earlier version of this post suggested that states must pass legislation to comply with Miller. In fact, some states have ended mandatory life without parole for juveniles through litigation. The headline and first paragraph of this post have been updated for clarification.

Source: http://www.thenation.com/blog/180422/despi...

Originally posted June 11th By Beth Schwartzapfel

Last week, the Massachusetts Parole Board announced that Frederick Christian might go home. He would be one of the first people to be released based on the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling, in Miller v. Alabama, finding mandatory life sentences for juveniles unconstitutional.

Courtesy of the Joe Donovan Project

Courtesy of the Joe Donovan Project

Christian was 17 when he was involved in a drug robbery that ended with the shooting deaths of two men. Now he is 37. In prison, he got his GED, enrolled in violence prevention programs, and converted to Islam. The five-times-a-day prayers, he said, “taught me discipline.” He has maintained a steady job cleaning the prison, gone regularly to Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and helped to grow vegetables for the homeless.

Across the country, some 2,500 people are serving life without parole sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles. Some have already served 30 years or more. Yet it’s likely few of them will get out. Before he can be paroled, Christian still has to complete a behavior modification program and live for a year in a minimum security prison. And his hearing is one of only a handful like it around the country since Miller. The Supreme Court said that the young people’s capacity to mature and change entitle them to a second chance. But lower courts, legislatures, and parole boards have more incentive to maintain the status quo than to show mercy—to follow the letter of Millerbut not its spirit.

That’s because letting more prisoners like Christian go free requires a return to an idea that the country largely abandoned a generation ago: that criminals can be rehabilitated, and there is a limit to just retribution. As costs rise for the growing prison population, legislators from every corner of the political map are now calling for a softening of sentencing laws. But legislation about the future is one thing. Giving a second chance to people who have already been sentenced for doing terrible things is another.

Christian was convicted in 1998 of two counts of first-degree murder. At the time of his crime, he was a drug dealer. He and two friends planned to rob three other dealers. But one of his friends shot the other men, killing two and wounding the third. Christian says (and the evidence suggests) he had no idea his friend meant to shoot the dealers. He didn’t hurt anyone himself. Still, he was convicted under the felony murder rule, which says all participants in a crime that ends in someone’s death can be treated as equally culpable. His sentence was mandatory: life without parole.

In Miller, the Supreme Court said sentencing judges must have discretion to consider mercy for juveniles facing life sentences. Before imposing life without parole, a judge must consider factors that set teenage criminals apart from their adult counterparts: immaturity, susceptibility to peer pressure, limited control over their home environments, and difficulty evaluating risks or appreciating consequences.

Letting more prisoners go free requires a return to an idea that the country largely abandoned a generation ago: that criminals can be rehabilitated.

But the court left open the question of what to do with the juvenile lifers like Christian, now adults, who were sentenced before Miller. Several states, including LouisianaMinnesota, and Pennsylvania, which collectively house almost half of the nation’s juvenile lifers, have said Miller is not retroactive: It only applies to new cases.

Even in states in which courts are reviewing old cases in light of Miller, they’re often leaving the defendants in prison for life. This month in Iowa, a judge heard from 33-year-old Romeo Hardin, who was 15 when he shot 21-year-old Augustus Nance in a gang initiation rite. After considering what he called Hardin’s “pathetic” childhood, filled with violence and neglect, the judge again sentenced him to life without parole. The same judge resentenced another juvenile lifer, Christine Lockheart—who was convicted of first-degree murder after waiting in the car while her boyfriend robbed and stabbed a neighbor—to life with the possibility of parole. In Michigan, a judge recently resentenced one person sentenced to life without parole, for a murder and carjacking at 16, to the same penalty. He resentenced another man, who was 14 when he shot and robbed an elderly woman, to 40 to 60 years. “Some people—let me emphasize, some people—need a second chance,” the judge said.

In other states, including Massachusetts, these sentencing determinations are in the hands of parole boards. Often appointed by governors, board members can be exquisitely sensitive to reflecting badly on their bosses. The ghost of Willie Horton may forever haunt the Massachusetts board. More recently, the board got into trouble for granting parole to lifer Dominic Cinelli, who then shot and killed a police officer in a botched armed robbery in 2010. Gov. Deval Patrick forced five of the six sitting parole board members to resign the following year. Parole rates dropped precipitously after that.

In deciding whether to give an inmate like Christian a second chance, many parole boards consider the severity of his original crime, and the reasons for it, at least as heavily as whether, and how much, he has changed in the decades since. “The parole board always tries to figure out what motivated someone to commit a crime—why did they do it?” says Patricia Garin, a Boston criminal defense attorney who specializes in parole.

Before Christian’s hearing, the board heard from Joseph Donovan, whose case has garnered media attention as an example of harsh sentencing: At 17, he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for throwing an ill-fated punch. Last month, he shuffled into his hearing, balding and thick around the middle at 38. “I was such a stupid kid,” he told the parole board of his teenage self.

As a lanky 17-year-old with a dark-haired pompadour, Donovan was out on a Friday night, looking for beer with some kids from his Cambridge, Massachusetts, neighborhood, when two exchange students brushed past him on the sidewalk. Donovan’s bluster and posturing—don’t you say excuse me?—quickly escalated when Donovan threw a punch so forceful that it broke his hand and knocked Yngve Raustein to the ground. While Donovan nursed his injured hand, his 15-year-old friend Shon McHugh pulled out a knife and, unprovoked, stabbed 21-year-old Raustein to death. Tried as a juvenile, McHugh served 10 years of a 20-year sentence. A third friend they were with, Alfredo Velez, testified against Donovan in exchange for a reduced sentence; he too served 10 years.  

But Donovan was tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder under the felony murder rule. At Donovan’s hearing, the parole board asked him the obvious questions about his violent behavior. “Where does this punch come from?” asked one member. “Where do you think that rage came from the night that you punched the victim so hard that you broke your own hand?” asked another.  

“I wanted to project a tough guy image—to be the man,” Donovan told the board. “It’s a childish, stupid thing, to even have that thought.”

In the last 15 years, Donovan has dedicated himself to reading and artwork, and he has been involved in no violent incidents in prison. But the early part of his sentence was marked by fights and assaults resulting in a cumulative seven years in solitary confinement. At his hearing, he also had to explain this part of his record. “When I was first sent to [prison], I was scared and confused. I made a series of poor decisions. I always wound up in the hole,” he said. There in solitary confinement, “I realized I let other people dictate my actions. I let events spin out of control. I had to step up and take responsibility for my actions. Because, at the end of the day, they’re the only thing I can control in this life.”

Joe Donovan told the board precisely the kind of story that Miller is meant to account for: He said he went into prison an impulsive, self-centered kid and grew up to be a reflective, empathetic man. An adult. “The fact is, that night, now, who I was back then, is so far removed from who I am today,” Donovan said. “I can’t believe I ever did that.” The parole board has yet to make a decision about his case. He’s waiting to find out if he’ll ever escape his 17-year-old self.

Beth Schwartzapfel is a freelance journalist who covers the criminal justice system. Her work has appeared in Mother Jones, the American Prospect, and the Boston Review. Follow her on Twitter.

Source: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_pol...

Originally posted Jun 10 2014 by Ed Donga

AP Photo/Elise AmendolaFrederick Christian speaks on his own behalf during a hearing before the state's parole board in Natick, Mass., Thursday, May 29, 2014.

AP Photo/Elise

AmendolaFrederick Christian speaks on his own behalf during a hearing before the state's parole board in Natick, Mass., Thursday, May 29, 2014.

Experts are unsure what impact the parole of Frederick Christian will have on other inmates sentenced to life without parole as juveniles.

BROCKTON – Convicted killer Frederick Christian, 37, has moved one step closer to freedom, but experts are unsure what that means for the 62 other prisoners sentenced to life without parole before they reached adulthood.

Last Thursday, Christian was granted parole a week after he became one of the first prisoners sentenced to life without parole as a juvenile to appear before the Parole Board after the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled last year that the sentence was a cruel and unusual punishment for juveniles.

The ruling came after a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down mandatory life sentencing laws for minors.

Christian had received the life without parole sentence for his participation in a 1994 Brockton armed robbery that left two men dead and another wounded. Christian’s friend, Russell Horton, 18, was the shooter.

“It’s hard to say from this case what will happen in any of the other cases,” Naoka Carey, the executive director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice. “My sense is that every case is very, very different not just in the circumstances of the crime, but what that person has done since the crime.”

In Massachusetts, Christian and 62 other prisoners, including Joseph Donovan who had his parole hearing on the same day as Christian and is still awaiting a decision, were sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Of those 63 prisoners, over 40 percent of them were sentenced to life without parole despite not being the individual to inflict the fatal blow, according to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.

Now, those prisoners will all be eligible for parole after serving 15 years of their sentence.

“Before the court’s decision, we (Massachusetts) fell on a very extreme end of things,” Carey said.

Previously, minors charged with first degree murder were tried in adult court regardless of age, and age was not taken into account during sentencing because the sentence was mandatory, Carey said.

Now, Massachusetts, like other states, is seeking to move towards the middle.

“Everyone is sort of moving away from it because the U.S. Supreme Court has really questioned it,” Carey said. “I think the overall trend is definitely away from life without parole for individuals under 18.”

The reasoning behind the opposition to life sentences without parole for juveniles is that their brains are not yet full developed.

“They don’t have the same ability as adults do to respond to their emotions, control their behavior and weigh their own actions,” Carey said.

The juvenile years are also a time when the brain is changing dramatically, meaning that juveniles can often grow into an adult that is significantly different from themselves as a minor, Carey said.

However, not all individuals watching the issue agree with getting ridding of life without parole for minors or with Christian’s parole.

Last Thursday, Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz blasted the Parole Board’s decision to grant Christian parole.

“We provided the trial transcripts to the parole board and crime scene photos,” Cruz said in a statement. "Those are the best evidence in this case and they do not support the Parole Board's findings or its decision to set this double murderer free.”

During the hearing, Carlos Araujo, the surviving victim from the attack, also expressed his wishes that Christian remain behind bars.

“In five months, he would have been 18, and then we wouldn’t be here; I ask that he never be let out,” Araujo said, according to parole board’s decision.

Some groups, such as the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers, believe states like Massachusetts have gone too far by eradicating life sentences without parole for juveniles as a sentencing option.

“There are certainly horrific cases that warrant that option,” said Liz Hare, the organization’s president. “They’ve taken the life. The person who is dead doesn’t get to come from before a parole board and be alive again.”

In Massachusetts, the number of prisoners granted parole while serving a life sentence has been on the rise in recent years.

In 2011, only 12 prisoners serving life sentences were granted parole. In 2012, the number jumped to 22, and in 2013, it jumped again to 27.

Of the 27 prisoners granted parole while serving life sentences in 2013, eight of them were sentenced as juveniles.

Edward Donga may be reached at edonga@enterprisenews.com.

Source: http://www.patriotledger.com/article/20140...

Seven states across the country have already outlawed life sentences for minors, and it looks like Hawaii might be next.

The bill, which is now at Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s (D) desk, would abolish life sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when the offender was younger than 18.

Introduced by state Reps. Karen Awana (D) and John Mizuno (D), the bill says that juveniles should have the opportunity for parole because they are “more vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures ... they have limited control over their own environment, and they may lack the ability to extricate themselves from horrific, crime-producing settings.”

Abercrombie is reviewing the fine print of the legislation with Attorney General David Louie. Abercrombie has until July 8 to sign or veto the bill.

Currently, Hawaii requires annual reevaluations of all prisoners eligible for parole; the juvenile sentencing bill would allow children convicted of first-degree murder to be sentenced to life, but they would subsequently be eligible for parole and reevaluation.

Recent studies have shown that adolescence -- which is defined as puberty up to the mid-20s -- is still a formative period in development and that youth are amenable and responsive to therapy. Furthermore, the juvenile sentencing bill notes that, when “neurological development occurs, the individual can become a contributing member of society.”

Opponents of life without parole for juveniles argue that, while adolescent behaviors mimic those that define antisocial personality disorder -- such as irritability, lying, truancy or failure to accept responsibility -- they are prevalent in adolescents only because those individuals are still developing mentally.

But Honolulu prosecutors say that it wouldn't be fair to draw lines separating offenders from others who were born just weeks earlier, and that the state already accommodates offenders who are younger than 22 years old with no prior convictions.

The United States is the only country in the world that imposes life sentences without parole on minors, a violation of Article 37 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that “neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offenses committed by persons below eighteen years of age.” In 2009, Human Rights Watch calculated that there are more than 2,500 youth offenders serving life without parole in the United States.

As recently as 2005, minors under the age of 18 were allowed to be sentenced to death. The Supreme Court’s Roper v. Simmons decision made the U.S. the last Western country to abolish the death penalty for minors.

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/13/h...

State high court weighed whether Mahdi Ali, who was 16 when he killed three men, should serve life without parole.

The Minnesota Supreme Court is considering, once again, whether it’s the right time to give a juvenile murderer a chance to fight his mandatory life sentence without parole.

On Tuesday, the justices heard the case of Mahdi Ali, who was 16 when he killed three men during a robbery at Minneapolis’ Seward Market in 2010. Under state law, his premeditated-murder conviction called for a life sentence without parole, even for juveniles certified to stand trial as an adult.

In June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller vs. Alabama, a case involving a 14-year-old boy, that sentencing juveniles to spend life in prison without considering factors like their youth, motive and potential for rehabilitation violated the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling didn’t ban life without parole for juveniles, but it said judges must consider mitigating circumstances before imposing such a harsh penalty.

Minnesota had eight juvenile killers in prison for life without parole before the high court declared it unconstitutional. Since May 2013, the state Supreme Court has ruled on two of those cases, rejecting arguments for changing sentences.

During Tuesday’s hearing, the justices spent much of the time questioning attorneys about the logistics and legal guidelines they would have to develop if they remanded Ali’s case to Hennepin County District Court to consider changing his life-without-parole sentence to one of at least 30 years with parole. They also debated if these juvenile cases call for action by the Legislature to change life-without-parole statutes.

Ali received two consecutive life sentences and a consecutive life-without-parole sentence. The two life sentences, served back to back, would keep him in prison for a minimum of 60 years, said assistant state public defender Lydia Villalva Lijo. She argued that the life-without-parole sentence was unconstitutional and that entire sentence should be reserved in light of Miller vs. Alabama.

“This case has changed the landscape of sentencing,” she said.

In recent months, state Supreme Courts in Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts and Texas have ruled that inmates serving life for juvenile crimes should receive new sentencing hearings.

Villalva Lijo suggested the Legislature needs to change the state’s life-sentence law, which was amended in 2005 to require that several serious crimes receive a mandatory “no parole” punishment. She said she’d like to see the law return to allowing parole eligibility after 30 years on a life sentence.

“But the court is now confronted with a very difficult situation because the state law is now unconstitutional,” she said. “Right now, a life sentence without parole is still mandated, and the district courts have no discretion for a different sentence.”

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea reminded her that Miller vs. Alabama doesn’t prohibit a district judge from imposing a life sentence without parole.

Justice David Stras said the court is in an ambiguous situation because “Miller is out there and we aren’t sure of the Legislature’s intentions” regarding the life without parole law.

The crimes involved in the two other juvenile cases appealed to the state Supreme Court happened long before the Miller decision; in both cases, life sentences prevailed. In 1996, 17-year-old Timothy Chambers stole a car and led police on a high-speed chase that ended when he slammed into a squad car, killing a Rice County sheriff’s deputy. In 2000, 17-year-old Tony Roman Nose raped and stabbed a teen to death.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

Source: http://www.startribune.com/local/261766131...

Originally posted Mon, June 25th, 2012

Lyle Denniston Reporter

States — and the federal government — that allow life prison sentences without a chance of release for minors who commit murder are now on notice, from the Supreme Court, that they may have a hard time justifying any such sentence that is actually imposed.   In a 5-4 ruling on Thursday, the Court left open the possibility that such sentences could still be imposed, even as it barred making such a sentence mandatory in all cases of homicides by youths under age 18.  At a minimum, any life-without-parole sentence for an adolescent murderer will get very heavy scrutiny if it goes to the Supreme Court.   Indeed, the Court said it expects such a sentence to be uncommon from here on.

The new decision, written by the newest Justice, Elena Kagan, continues the trend that started a quarter-century ago of demanding that criminal punishment for children generally must be different — and less harsh — than for adults.   The whole premise behind that trend is that children are not adults, but rather are unformed people with the capacity to change, and to grow beyond being a thoroughly corrupted individual beyond redemption.

In earlier rulings in that trend, the Court had flatly barred the death penalty for minors who commit murder and had flatly barred life without parole for minors who commit a crime that does not involve the death of the victim (so-called non-homicide crimes).   In the new combined cases of Miller v. Alabama (10-9646) andJackson v. Hobbs (10-9647),  youths convicted of murders when they were 14 years old asked the Court to extend such a flat ban to life without parole when the victim is murdered.   As an alternative, the two youths asked the Court at least to rule out entirely any such sentence if the youth were only 14 when the crime occurred.

The Court chose not to adopt either approach.   Instead, it simply struck out any requirement that life without parole be the mandatory penalty for murder by a minor.   The Court did not rule on whether that sentence would be invalid in the two cases before it — involving Evan James Miller of Speake, Ala., and Kuntrell Jackson, of Blytheville, Ark.   It sent their cases back to state courts to make the kind of “individualized” sentencing decision that the new ruling demands.   If, once again, they are sentenced to life without parole, their cases conceivably could return to the Supreme Court.

What sentencing judges now must do, when a youth is convicted of murder that occurred before age 18, is to focus directly and only on that one individual in choosing a sentence.  The judge must assess the specific age of that individual, examine that youth’s childhood and life experience, weigh the degree of responsibility the youth was capable of exercising, and assess that youth’s chances to become rehabilitated.  Only if the judge then concludes that life without parole is a “proportional” penalty, given all of the factors that mitigate the youth’s guilt, can he impose such a sentence.

The decision provided no specific guidelines, nor any clearly defined list of factors, that are to control that sentencing decision.   The opinion noted that, taking into account everything the Court had said in the string of decisions limiting punishment for minors, about children’s “diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change,” the Court thinks that “appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon.”

It commented that judges with a youthful murderer before the bench will have “great difficulty” distinguishing between a minor whose crime reflected “unfortunate yet transient immaturity” and “the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption.”   The opinion concluded: “Although we do not foreclose a sentencer’s ability to make that judgment in homicide cases, we require it to take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.”

Justice Kagan’s opinion was joined by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who has been the Court’s leader in monitoring the sentencing of youths who commit crimes; as the senior Justice in the majority, Kennedy assigned the opinion in this case to the junior Justice.  The opinion also was joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor (who, in a separate opinion written by Breyer, argued that if the state of Arkansas again seeks to impose life without parole on Kentrell Jackson, it should have to prove that Jackson personally killed or intended to kill the robbery victim who was shot to death in that case.  Without that finding, those two Justices said, life without parole would be an unconstitutional sentence for Jackson).  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also joined the Kagan opinion, and did not write separately; neither did Kennedy.

Three of the four dissenters wrote opinions: Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., joined by Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas; Justice Thomas, joined by Scalia, and Justice Alito, also joined by Scalia.

Plain English summary

In a series of decisions dating back to 1988, the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that youths under age 18 who commit crimes must not necessarily get as severe a punishment as adults who committed the same kind of crimes.  Among other rulings, the Court has forbidden the death penalty for minors who commit murders, and it has barred a sentence of life in prison without a chance of release for minors who commit crimes in which the victim is not killed.  In this new ruling, the Court avoiding imposing such a flat ban on life without parole for a minor who commits murder, but it did rule out such a sentence as a mandatory requirement in all such cases.  It said, though, that it does not expect very many youths under age 18 to get such a sentence that essentially would require them to stay in prison until they die.


Originally Posted October 21st The Tennessean

Crosses mark the bottom of the driveway of Gary and Tammy Moore, who were killed Oct. 14 at their Cottontown house. Their 17-year-old son is charged in their deaths. / SANFORD MYERS / THE TENNESSEAN

Tennessee was supposed to change everything for the 17-year-old boy.

Leaving the small town of Scottsville, Ky., was meant to be a step in the right direction — away from the neighborhood where he saw his parents fall into debt, divorce and then reconcile; out of the school where, friends say, he was mercilessly bullied; and beyond his run-ins with police, who were called to the family’s house multiple times, once because his mother told them her son was “out of control.”


“The move to Tennessee was supposed to make (his) life better, to get away from everything,” said his older brother Justin Moore, 27. “It just doesn’t make any sense."

But the trouble escalated when the teenager and his parents, Gary and Tammy Moore, moved into a small rental house on Highway 25 in Sumner County.

Public records document the private turmoil simmering in the Moore home, arguments so intense that just last month the shouting woke Tammy Moore. She walked into the room to see her son — high on drugs — pointing a compound bow at his father. The son was arrested, for the second time this year.

The third time the Sumner County deputies went to the Moores’ Cottontown home, on Oct. 10, they found the couple shot to death. The son and a 21-year-old friend, Chase Vinson of Cross Plains, stand charged with two counts each of first-degree murder, aggravated arson and theft exceeding $10,000. Vinson’s brother Chad, 38, is charged with accessory after the fact to first-degree murder after, authorities say, he helped hide weapons and a stolen truck.

Prosecutors want the case transferred out of juvenile court to criminal court, where the teen can be tried as an adult. If convicted in juvenile court, he would serve a maximum of 19 years. If convicted in adult court, he could be sentenced to life in prison or life without parole.

A judge will make that decision after he hears the results of a psychiatric evaluation he ordered performed on the teenager. The Tennessean does not identify teenagers charged with crimes until they are transferred to adult court.

Deadly combinationPolice, friends and family say that although the Moore family may have struggled at times, they treated one another well. Justin Moore said the family would take frequent vacations to Barren River State Park to camp and boat. He said they’d take trips to Panama City Beach and theme parks. They gathered at the family dinner table to eat nearly every night. And, even though Gary, 54, and Tammy Moore, 51, divorced nearly a decade ago, the couple reconciled and moved back in together about a year later.

“We went camping, we did vacations, we did it all,” Justin Moore said. “It was unbelievable that something like this would happen.”
And yet, he said that his younger brother constantly got into trouble and didn’t respond to his parents’ discipline. Records show a growing anger with his family and a drug problem that developed.

“So, you have domestic issues, robbery and drugs involved,” said Maj. Don Linzy, with the Sumner County Sheriff’s Office. “It mixed to a deadly combination.”

The teen grew up in Scottsville, Ky., in rural Allen County, population about 20,000, just 60 miles northeast of Nashville. There the teen lived with his parents and three older siblings — two brothers and a sister.

Gary Moore worked as a driver for USF-Holland, a Michigan-based trucking company that has offices in Nashville. The company declined to answer questions about what kind of an employee he had been, but he had been driving for the company at least since 2003, court records show.
Tammy Moore didn’t work and often suffered with bouts of depression, Justin Moore said.

Around 2001, Justin Moore said, his parents ended their marriage in what he described as a cordial split, and Gary Moore moved out. About a year later, the two reconciled. Gary moved back in and life resumed as normal, but the couple never remarried.

“They still slept in the same bed and still lived in the same house,” Justin said. “I think it was more or less knowing that they weren’t married that they got along so well. When they got divorced, they were happy as can be. Dad loved Mom.”

In fact, though their marriage was troubled, Gary Moore wanted to keep his wife on his insurance plan so she could get treatment for her depression.

But in 2003, the Moore family filed for bankruptcy, citing more than $131,000 in debt, including medical bills and credit cards, according to federal court records. Justin Moore said the medical bills were related to his mother’s mental health.

That same year, their daughter, Shannon Moore, requested a restraining order against her father, saying he threatened to physically drag her away if she didn’t get home one night when he found her out late with friends. She was 18 at the time. A judge signed the order, warning Gary Moore not to threaten or abuse his daughter, but it was in place only a month before it expired.

Justin Moore laughed when asked about the order, saying it was just a way of trying to “push back” against authority. Linzy agreed, saying that after talking to Shannon Moore, “I think she would say she did the wrong thing.”

Shannon, now 26, could not be reached for comment.

In 2005, her youngest brother had his first encounter with the law.

Scottsville police spotted him in a “carload of intoxicated teens,” according to police records. He was 11 at the time.

Four years later, Tammy Moore called police on her son, saying he stole $5,000 from a lockbox in the house and ran away. It’s unclear from records whether he was arrested in either of those incidents.

Four months later, records show, she called police on him again, saying he was “out of control.”

Wes Vandyke lived next to the teen in Kentucky and befriended him about 11 years ago. He said the Moores were nice and treated him like family.

But as the teen entered high school, trouble started. Vandyke said the teen was continually bullied.

“He said everyone treated him bad but me,” said Vandyke, 21.

Daniel Turner, 22, another friend from high school, said the teen wouldn’t fight back, so he protected him, intervening when someone caused trouble. He also remembered him talking about quitting school and never wanting to go home.

“He just said he didn’t like it,” Turner said. “He would never go into any detail.”

Friend's dad uneasy

After arriving in Tennessee, the teenager befriended Chase Vinson.

Vinson’s father, Dwight, said the teen liked to play martial arts video games with his son, but the father was uneasy about their friendship.

“On his second or third visit, I told my son that he needed to stay away from him, that there was something wrong with him,” said Vinson, 65, of Cross Plains. “Every time the subject of his mom and dad came up, he would shut down. It was like he didn’t want to go home. You could tell that they didn’t get along in some way.”

Vinson’s instincts were right.

In January, Tammy Moore called 911 on her son after an argument in which Gary Moore slapped the teen, which led to a scuffle on the ground. Sumner County deputies arrested the teen on a simple battery charge.

On Sept. 19, Tammy Moore called 911 again on her son. She woke up to arguing and came downstairs to see he “had a compound bow with an arrow in place aimed at her husband.” Deputies said the teen was delusional, “talking about people were out to get him,” and had injected heroin before the incident. Deputies again arrested him, this time on an aggravated battery charge.

The cases were pending when the Moores were killed.

The teen’s Kentucky friend Vandyke said that he still talked with the teen on occasion and that the last time the two talked was Oct. 10, the day the couple were found slain.

“He said, ‘Me and my friends want to come over and hang out,’” he said. “He wanted my help for something.”

But Vandyke said the teenager never told him what he wanted.

Vandyke agreed to let the teen visit, but he never showed up. The next day, Vandyke saw news reports that said Gary and Tammy Moore had been shot to death and set on fire in an attempt to cover up the crime.

The teenager remains jailed awaiting his next court hearing. A judge set a $1 million bond for Chase Vinson, and his brother Chad Vinson remains jailed without bond.

Staff writer Nicole Young contributed to this report. Contact Brian Haas at 615-726-8968 or bhaas@tennessean.com


Originally Posted October 5, 2011 boston.com by James Alan Fox

The response to my last blog post--a call to abolish life without parole sentences for juvenile murderers in Massachusetts--was lively and contentious. While many readers concurred with the goal of better aligning our state with the rest of the nation, some would have Massachusetts remain one of the harshest and most punitive when it comes to sentencing youth.

The negative tenor of certain reader comments was unsurprising, not because introducing parole eligibility for juvenile murderers is in any way a radical idea. Rather the unwillingness of some folks to consider he reforms proposed in S. 672 and H. 1346 (An Act Relative to the Sentencing of Children), is based on an array of misconceptions and falsehoods about juvenile justice.

A group of responders, thinking perhaps with their pocketbook in mind, argued for restoring the death penalty in Massachusetts. Aside from the fact that the death penalty costs more, not less, than long term incarceration, a return to capital punishment would not-- and could not--apply to juveniles. The U.S. Supreme Court already decided that executing those whose crimes were committed before their 18th birthday is unconstitutional.

In Roper v. Simmons (2005), the Court ruled that the former practice in many states of executing juvenile murderers was cruel and unusual: cruel because it was contrary to evolving standards of decency and unusual because the U.S. was virtually alone in this regard. Moreover, the Court was persuaded by scientific evidence that youngsters are different. No matter how heinous the crime, juveniles should not be held to the same standard of responsibility as adults.

Undoubtedly, as several of my critics argued, juveniles are fully aware of the wrongfulness of killing. However because of their transitional stage of cognitive and emotional development, their ability to think long term and to grasp fully the enormous impact of their crimes is limited. They fail to appreciate the profound consequences of taking someone’s life--not for their victim or even for themselves. They don’t imagine what it would be like growing up and growing old in prison, never marrying, and never having kids or a career. Indeed, what is the significance of life from the perspective of someone who has lived only 14 years?

This lack of foresight helps to explain why, according to a study by the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, nearly half of the offenders serving life without parole for juvenile murder had rejected a plea bargain offered by the prosecution in favor of a jury trial. They end up paying with their lives for a bad decision on legal strategy. If the prosecutor thought that 15 years (parole eligibility for second-degree murder) was just punishment, is it right that the juvenile should instead spend the remainder of his life in prison?

Besides having poor judgment, juveniles are especially susceptible to external forces, including the approval and disapproval of peers. They do terrible things on a dare, often commit crimes in groups, and are easily pressured by older teens or adults.

Juveniles behave impulsively. Simply put, teenagers may look like adults, dress like adults and even kill like adults, but they reason and deliberate as juveniles. A harsh punishment will not make someone think twice, when they don’t really think once before acting.

Other commenters to my blog focused more on the need to keep extremely dangerous offenders away from society for extended periods of time, even life. Names like Eddie O’Brien and Daniel LaPlante were mentioned by a couple of outraged readers. However, the proposal to give juvenile murderers parole eligibility does not necessarily grant them parole release. The proposed change in law appropriately provides for lifetime incarceration in the case of individuals who cannot be safely returned to society. But this decision is best made down the road, not at time of sentencing.

A few indignant readers reminded me of the simple fact that the there is no parole for the victims of first-degree murder from their fate. For them, regardless of the perpetrator’s age and level of maturity, there can be no second chances. Of course, this sad truth holds for victims of second-degree murder, manslaughter, and vehicular homicide--all crimes for which the perpetrator does have the possibility of returning back to society even while the victim remains buried in the grave.

In general, punishments should fit the crime. But they should also fit the criminal. Murderers are not all the same in terms of culpability and dangerousness to society. With sufficient time, most juvenile offenders will mature, develop better judgment and foresight, and earn the opportunity for a second chance. Life without parole is a walking death sentence.

Dissenting readers based their objections while contemplating repeat, chronic, ruthless hoodlums. However, 40% of juveniles sentenced to life without parole in Massachusetts were first-time offenders. Contrary to the claims posted by several of my critics, many of these juvenile offenders are or will someday be excellent parole risks.

Also quite different from the common stereotype are youngsters who were convicted under the felony-murder rule, representing as many as 20% of those serving life without parole in Massachusetts for juvenile homicide. By law, all parties involved in the commission of a felony during which someone is killed are considered responsible, regardless of how the death occurred, who caused it, or whether it was intentional.

An accomplice can be convicted of first-degree murder without having dealt the fatal blow, or any blow for that matter. In such cases, the prosecution need not prove the intent to kill, nor is such intent even required for conviction.

By far the biggest myth is the notion that Massachusetts is soft on violent juveniles. To the contrary, the state stands as one of the very toughest. In Massachusetts, all defendants as young as 14 who are accused of murder are tried as adults--no exceptions. Other states also permit trying such youngsters as adults, but make it discretionary depending on the circumstances. Moreover, in Massachusetts anyone 14 or older who is convicted of first-degree murder, including felony murder and joint ventures, are automatically given life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Massachusetts trial judges have expressed discomfort and regret as they send a teenager away for life without parole. However, the Commonwealth gives them no other option. Other states employ life without parole, but allow exceptions given mitigating factors.

The problem with the current law is not so much in its toughness, but in its rigidity. The law was passed in the wake of the Eddie O’Brien murder case and was designed to put such offenders away for life. O’Brien may represent the worst case, but is hardly the typical case. Of course, laws need to accommodate worst case situations, but at the same time allow for more measured responses for less extreme crimes.

For second-degree murder (i.e., murderous intent without premeditation), Massachusetts grants parole eligibility after 15 years. Given what we know about the immaturity and impulsivity of juveniles, shouldn’t they have the same opportunity? Even then, those believed to pose too much of a threat to public safety can, and should, be held longer. Under the proposed amendments, juvenile murderers canbe incarcerated for their entire lives if the parole board determines that they are at risk of reoffending.

I hope you put aside your preconceptions of liberal Massachusetts, one of only two states that employs life without parole for someone as young as 14. I hope you will consider the fairness of giving juveniles--those who are truly deserving--the possibility for a second chance at freedom. For a teenage offender, a sentence of fifteen years, at the minimum, is hardly a slap on the wrist or in any respects an insult to the victim.

Author's note: You can follow me on twitter at @jamesalanfox or Facebook at Professor James Alan Fox for notifications of new blog postings. Also, you can find me on the Web at www.jamesalanfox.com or contact me by e-mail at j.fox@neu.edu.

Originally Published September 16th Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

By John Lash

John Lash

Over the last few decades politicians have advocated for stricter sentencing guidelines and for trying more juveniles as adults. These decisions have been largely driven by public fear and a desire by elected officials to be seen as “tough on crime.”

They do not rely on evidence-based research, one of the least used methods for determining juvenile justice policy.

Some of these attitudes seem to be changing though. Over the last few years, research has generated data that are beginning to be acknowledged by policy makers. One such study is Pathways to Desistance, sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in partnership with many other groups interested in effective juvenile justice practices. The study followed 1,354 serious juvenile offenders between the ages of 14 and 18 for seven years following their conviction.

Several interesting conclusions have been drawn from the study, as outlined in an OJJDP fact sheet prepared by Edward P. Mulvey, the lead researcher. According to the fact sheet, “Most youth who commit felonies greatly reduce their offending over time, regardless of the intervention.” This seems to point to the idea that as people mature they tend to make better decisions. This applies even to those who commit terrible crimes.

Another conclusion of the study is that longer stays in juvenile facilities do not lower the risk of reoffending when compared to placing the youths on probation. In fact, the group with the lowest level of offending actually tended to increase their criminality the longer they were kept in confinement. A better approach was community based supervision, which increased participation in school and work, and which led to lower rates of involvement with the juvenile system. Increasing the time that the juvenile spent in community based supervision led to even lower rates of reoffending.

The study also supports the efficacy of substance-abuse treatment. Even when taking into account the types of offenses, race and socioeconomic status, treatment that included strong family involvement led to a decrease in criminal behavior. One finding of the study is that the prevalence of drug use among juvenile offenders is three to four times higher than in the general population. Thirty seven percent of the males had been diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder. Dr. Mulvey suggests that joining substance abuse treatment with community-based supervision may lead to greater reduction in offending over the short and long term.

The OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book says that in 2007 (the last year listed) 86,927 juveniles were in detention. According to Models for Change, a website devoted to juvenile justice reform, seventy percent of these are held in state-run facilities, at an average cost of $240.99 a day to house. States are looking for ways to save money, and evidenced-based policies can help meet that goal. They are certainly a better choice than programs that are ineffective and that may actually increase crime.

I hope that studies like this will be taken into account when new policies are being decided. Juvenile life without parole, automatically trying juveniles as adults, and imposition of mandatory minimums on young offenders should all be revisited in light of studies such as Pathways to Desistance. Along with the latest research in adolescent brain development these real world studies point to a new way of approaching juvenile crime. Perhaps we can begin to salvage these kids instead of throwing them away.

John Lash SmallJohn Lash

John Lash served nearly 25 years in Georgia prisons. He was released in December 2009. While in, he began to practice Zen meditation and other approaches to studying consciousness. He later became interested in interpersonal communication and group processes. He studied and taught nonviolent communication and restorative practices in prison where he also got his BS in human resources management from Mercer University. He is a participant in Compassionate Leadership, a non-violent communication training program, and is a student in the Master of Conflict Management program at Kennesaw State University.


Originally Posted September 21st 2011 boston.com

By James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment

The existing Massachusetts law for trying and punishing juveniles charged with murder, arguably the stiffest in the United States in terms of breadth and rigidity, was enacted amidst a climate of fear fueled by wide-ranging media hype about juvenile violence. Not only was the 1996 statute crafted in the wake of a particularly heinous juvenile murder case locally, but lawmakers around the country responded to warnings about the increasing numbers of the young and the ruthless.

As it happened, the early 1990s spike in juvenile homicide did not persist, but vanished as the new millennium approached. The 1990s drop in juvenile murder has been linked to smarter policing, crack-downs on illegal gun trafficking, increased anti-gang efforts, successful crime prevention programming, demographic trends, and especially shifting drug markets, but not to changes in the way in which juveniles were prosecuted.

It may be tempting to suggest that the 1996 statute was responsible for the diminished problem of youth homicide locally over the past decade and a half. However, as should be clear in the figure below, the welcome decline in juvenile murder started years prior to 1996. In addition, juvenile murder rates declined nationally, not just in Massachusetts with our particularly harsh approach to punishing juveniles and not just in other states that have juvenile life without parole laws on the books. The rate of juvenile murder declined in states that did not take such extreme measures.

j h o r

Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the data. I have analyzed juvenile murder trends state-by-state in order to estimate the effect of the 1996 statute on juvenile homicide rates here in the Commonwealth. I can report that current law, requiring that all juveniles as young as 14 be tried as adults and sentenced to life without parole if convicted of first-degree murder, has not reduced the rate of juvenile murder whatsoever.

The statute’s lack of impact reflects on two factors. First, juvenile life without parole has no greater deterrent effect than, say, a  15- or 20-year prison sentence, which was the law in Massachusetts prior to the 1996 statute. Given their relatively immature level of cognitive and emotional development, adolescents are much more influenced by present day incentives for committing crime than by future consequences should they be caught. In addition to the failure of deterrence, the dozens of juveniles currently serving life without parole in Massachusetts under existing law would still be incarcerated today had the 1996 statute never been passed. That is, a 15-year minimum penalty for juvenile murder, which was prescribed under the previous law and is included among the reforms proposed in S. 672 and H. 1346 (An Act Relative to the Sentencing of Children), currenly being considered by the Joint Committee on the Judicary, would still have these convicted murderers behind bars.

The pending legislation does not  not propose a return to the antiquated system in place prior to the 1990s whereby youngsters charged with murder were retained in the juvenile court unless selectively transferred for criminal prosecution. Rather, the proposed bill would have juvenile murderers incarcerated for 15 years at the very least, thereby keeping them off the streets through their violence-prone years, and even longer should the parole board consider them to be a continuing threat to public safety. But for those whose criminal history is indeed history, keeping them incarcerated for life, well past the point of dangerousness, makes little policy sense. Not only does it use up scarce prison space, but it fails to recognize that people can change and sometimes a second chance is in order.

Over the past decade, many states around the country have reconsidered their approach to punishing juveniles, repealing some the harsh approaches implemented during the 1990s hype and hysteria. Even the state of Texas abolished life without parole for juveniles. It is time for Massachusetts to do the same.

* * *

Note; This is an expanded version of my testimony on September 20, 2011 before the Massachusetts Senate and House Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

Author's note: You can follow me on twitter at @jamesalanfox or Facebook at Professor James Alan Fox for notifications of new blog postings. Also, you can find me on the Web at www.jamesalanfox.com or contact me by e-mail at j.fox@neu.edu.


Originally Published September 7th Associated Press

By GREG BLUESTEIN Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) -- A federal appeals court on Wednesday held that juveniles convicted of murder can be sentenced to life in prison without parole, seeking to settle a lingering debate over how the courts punish minors who commit serious offenses.

The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that juveniles cannot be sentenced to death and that they also can't be sentenced to life in prison without parole for rape and other non-homicide offenses. The ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, though, upheld life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder.

The decision came in the case against Kenneth Loggins, who was convicted in Alabama of killing a hitchhiker in 1994 and originally sentenced to die. He was 17 at the time of the killing, so his punishment was reduced to life without parole because the Supreme Court banned such executions in 2005.

His attorneys had urged the three-judge panel to broaden a 2010 Supreme Court by including murders as an offense that can't carry a life sentence. That 5-4 ruling held that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life in prison without parole if they haven't killed anyone, and ordered the courts to allow them a "meaningful opportunity to obtain release."

But prosecutors argued that the high court took pains to specify the ruling only applied in non-homicide cases, and the 11th Circuit said it found no reason to toss out Loggins' prison sentence.

The decision, written by Circuit Judge Ed Carnes, said "there's nothing in law or logic" to support the argument that a state shouldn't be allowed to impose the next most severe punishment if a death penalty sentence is banned.

The 11th Circuit has jurisdiction over federal cases in Georgia, Alabama and Florida, but lawyers in other areas will likely use the opinion to back up their own arguments.

Carnes had been the head of Alabama's capital punishment unit before he joined the court in 1992. He also wrote that the state shouldn't be blocked from imposing the prison sentence because it "lacked the clairvoyance to know that the Supreme Court would do an about-face and rule out death sentences for seventeen-year-old murderers."

In the decision, he said only a few jurisdictions have repealed laws permitting life without parole sentences for homicides committed by juveniles, and that the national consensus seems to be in favor of keeping those laws on the books.

"The long-term national trend is not away from life without parole sentences for homicides committed by juveniles but toward them," he said.
The ruling comes in a case involving the gruesome murder of Vickie Deblieux, who was picked up by Loggins and three other teens and taken to a secluded rural area as she was traveling to her mother's home in Louisiana.

One of the men hit Deblieux in the head with a beer bottle and then tackled her when she tried to run away, and all four savagely kicked her, the court said. When they realized she was still alive after the vicious beating, Loggins stood on her throat until she died, the ruling said.

Loggins and two others later mutilated the body by cutting off her fingers and thumbs and removing part of a lung. They were arrested after one of the teens was reported to have been showing one of the victim's severed fingers to friends.

The three others - who were 19, 17 and 16 at the time of the killing - were also convicted of the slaying and sentenced to either death or life in prison.

Originally Posted August 31st 2011 Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

By John Lash

John Lash

There are numerous issues surrounding trying juveniles as adults – particularly in cases where the possibility of life without parole exists. The ideas that shaped juvenile justice for over a hundred years have been degraded and attacked, particularly in state government, with a view that juveniles deserve harsher punishment. These ideas fit the overarching “tough on crime” view of many politicians (and often their constituents). But does this view reflect reality, or is it a political convenience that preys on the pain of victims and the fear of the public?

Some argue that juveniles are responsible for their actions, that they are in essence miniature adults who deserve what they get. They would have us believe that juveniles are in fact beyond redemption, and that they can predict which children will not change. Others argue the opposite. These issues are hotly debated in the United States, where the situation is complicated by state jurisdiction over laws, but the problem is not unique to our country. Internationally the United States is an exception to the norm. As of 2009 more than 190 countries ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, which opposes life without parole for juveniles. The exceptions were the U.S. and Somalia. This is not to suggest that international law supersedes U.S. law, but that we might reexamine our own policies in light of world opinion.

One instance where juvenile violence and restoration arise is in conflicts that involve children as combatants. Child soldiers are employed across the globe, and often they are involved in atrocities. Some of these children were abducted, some volunteered, and some had no other options. Many committed war crimes under duress or threats against their lives, but some of them committed terrible acts of their own volition. One of the most difficult issues of these conflicts is how to treat these children when captured or at the end of hostilities. How can these kids be reintegrated into civil society, especially after learning to perpetrate violence as a way of life? How can they be held accountable for their actions while still acknowledging their lessened culpability? The situations are not exactly the same, but there are enough similarities that a comparison might benefit us.

Many of the questions that arise can be applied to both examples. How do we respect the rights of the victims? How do we evaluate the offender? How do we balance retribution, restoration, and safety? In most of the world, even in places where child soldiers are common, there is an acknowledgement that youth is a mitigating factor, that kids can change, and that they can be brought back into the community. Perhaps these views can be adopted here, along with some means of keeping the public safe as well.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles couldn’t be executed. In 2010 the court ruled that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide crimes. I hope that this represents a trend toward reinstating the ideas that formed juvenile justice, that kids by their nature are less culpable and more malleable than adults, and consequently should be treated in a different way. Acknowledging this does not eliminate or deny the need for protecting society or seeing justice done.

I believe that a way to balance these considerations can be found. The possibility of parole is not the same as a guarantee of parole. If an individual is deemed to be dangerous, or not to have served enough time (whatever that might be), then he remains imprisoned. Sometimes he remains imprisoned until death. By the same measure, if he is deemed to be rehabilitated, to have learned from his experience how to exist in society, then society has the option to extend mercy. It seems unlikely to me that we could reasonably determine what course an individual’s life might take. To impose a sentence that allows for parole, but does not guarantee it seems a good balance to me. I do not believe that it is an either/or proposition. The needs of all parties can be considered and valued. Justice and mercy are not incompatible.

John Lash 2

John Lash

John Lash served nearly 25 years in Georgia prisons. He was released in December 2009. While in, he began to practice Zen meditation and other approaches to studying consciousness. He later became interested in interpersonal communication and group processes. He studied and taught nonviolent communication and restorative practices in prison where he also got his BS in human resources management from Mercer University. He is a participant in Compassionate Leadership, a non-violent communication training program, and is a student in the Master of Conflict Management program at Kennesaw State University.


Originally Posted September 2, 2011 KALW NEWS by Nancy Mullane

Jenn Vargas

Last week in Sacramento, lawmakers narrowly rejected SB9, a bill that would have impacted hundreds of prison inmates who were sentenced as juveniles to serve life sentences without the possibility of parole. After some slight adjustments, it’s up for reconsideration, as early as next week. KALW’s Ben Trefny spoke with the bill’s author, Senator Leland Yee, about its significance.

SENATOR LELAND YEE: The United States is the only country in the world that has this sentence, that if you commit a horrible crime when you are underage, you will be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. It is an unconscionable reputation that we have. This is barbaric, and we ought not to ever have this on our shoulders, but unfortunately we are the only country that still has this sentence. And so what I would really like to do is ban it, but the reality in politics is that you have to look for compromises. So the bill we have now basically says: If in fact you have this particular sentence, you have to serve that sentence for 15 years, at which time you have to then petition the court to review your sentence. And you have to demonstrate to the court that you have been rehabilitated, that you’ve gotten your GED, you’ve demonstrated remorse, accepted responsibility, really turned your life around. So you’ve really got a high hurdle to pass to demonstrate to the courts that you ought to be given a second chance.

BEN TREFNY: Like any potential parolee, right?

YEE: Exactly. And so hopefully this will give kids a second chance. I’ve always said that our society is defined by how we treat our children, and for us to simply throw away the key for our kids, is something that I just cannot imagine.

One of the inmates Yee’s bill would affect is Elizabeth Lozano, serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.

ELIZABETH LOZANO: When you tell a youth life, they want people to realize these were really kids, hold them accountable, give them 20 years, but don’t tell them they are going away for life.

Lozano told her story to Nancy Mullane, who stopped by the KALW studios to speak with news director Holly Kernan.

*     *     *

NANCY MULLANE: I met Elizabeth Lozano in prison, down in Chowchilla, where she’s been serving a juvenile life without parole sentence. When she was 16, Elizabeth Lozano was out with a group of people, and a crime was committed of murder. At that time, because she didn’t commit the murder, she did not think that she would be held accountable.

One of her parents lived in Mexico, so when they heard about this crime, they sent her to live in Mexico for a couple of years. She came back to the United States at the age of 18, and shortly thereafter was arrested and tried for the murder of the crime that happened when she was 16. At that time – when she was actually convicted and found guilty – she was pregnant.

HOLLY KERNAN: Was she the murderer?

MULLANE: No. In fact, that’s the interesting thing about individuals serving juvenile life sentences without the possibility of parole in California: 45% of the nearly 300 didn’t commit the murder. But they were convicted under something called the Felony Murder Rule – which means they were either there when it happened, or they aided and abetted in a crime that was related to the murder.

When I spoke with Elizabeth Lozano, we were sitting in the cafeteria at the central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. Here she is, describing what passage of SB9 would mean to her case.

ELIZABETH LOZANO: This passage does not mean my freedom; it’s not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. I have to prove to these people that I’m ready to go home – it does not mean that I will go home. But it gives me hope; it means that I wasn’t sentenced to a death sentence. Because that’s how it feels. Life without parole is another death sentence in here.

It just gives me hope. I feel like they’re throwing away the youth, and they could rehabilitate and help them.

MULLANE: What do you most look forward to when you get out?

LIZANNO: My son, my family … I don’t care about food, I don’t care about clothing, none of that. My brothers were teenagers when I left them, and now they’re grown men with their children. I just want have them in one room, and spend the night in one room – that’s it.

KERNAN: Lozano is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, for a crime she was involved in when she was a minor, when she was 16 years old. So tell me, Nancy – how common is a story like Elizabeth Lozano’s?

MULLANE: Well, in California there are almost 300 individuals who were younger than 18 when they committed a crime. They were either there when the crime of murder happened, or they committed the crime. Forty-five percent of those didn’t commit the crime of murder, but were charged with murder. These nearly 300 people are now serving sentences called life without parole; we call it JLWOP: juvenile life without parole. So these people will never get out of prison in California. That’s why Senator Leland Yee introduced this bill.

KERNAN: What exactly would the bill do – and who qualifies?

MULLANE: The bill was initially introduced a couple of years ago, as SB399. That bill made it through the Senate; it made it through the Assembly, the Assembly Public Safety Committee; but then it didn’t get the votes that would qualify it for passage in the floor of the full Assembly. So Senator Leland Yee has reintroduced this bill, as SB9. Now, SB9 has also passed through the Senate, and now it’s gone through the Assembly Public Safety Committee, the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and last week, on August 25, it came up before the full floor of the Assembly, where it got 40 of the 41 necessary votes.

This bill would apply to individuals who were convicted of murder in California – either under the Felony Murder Rule, or for committing a murder themselves – if they committed the murder before they were 18. If it’s passed, under the reconsideration vote that will be taken probably next week, it will allow these individuals – after they have served 15 years – to ask the judge of the sentencing court to sentence them to life with the possibility of parole. Now, that would mean a sentence of 25 years to life. And they would have to serve all 25 years, if the judge agrees with their petition and sentences them to life with.

KERNAN: What are the critics of this bill saying? What’s their argument?

MULLANE: One of the arguments is actually coming out of San Francisco Assemblyperson Fiona Ma’s office – she has voted “no” on this bill repeatedly. This morning, her office gave me one of her criteria for a “yes” vote on the bill: in order for the sentencing court to consider the lifer’s petition for re-sentencing, the surviving victims of the person who was murdered would have the authority to determine whether it should go to the sentencing court. Now, I spoke to an attorney who has been promoting the bill, and she said she thought that might be unconstitutional. But according to Fiona Ma’s chief of staff, that is her criterion for passage of the bill.

KERNAN: Let’s bring this back to Elizabeth Lozano, whose story you told us. I understand that the family’s been fighting for several bills like this in the past.

MULLANE: Yeah – when I met her, I was there for a day that they have every year, where children come to visit their parents. Her son came in, and he was almost 16, and he had fuzz on his face. And really, unless this bill passes, she has no hope of ever getting out of prison.

Now, if this bill were to pass – if they were to get that one extra vote – it would mean that, after someone like Elizabeth Lozano had served the 15 years, she would then petition the judge, and if the judge agreed with her, she would then have to go before the parole board. And the parole board only finds somewhere between 4% and 10% suitable, out of all the thousands that go before them. Based on California law, once the parole board has found her suitable, she would still have to go before the governor – and the governor at that point, after 150 days, could decide whether to agree with the parole board or reverse the parole board.

So the chances of Elizabeth Lozano actually getting out of prison if SB9 is passed are still minimal at best. But what this does is it gives these individuals hope. It gives them the sense that if they do everything right – if they do everything to rehabilitate, everything to reform – this gives individuals hope. Now, whether nor not they ever get out – that’s something for the courts, something for the parole board, something for the governor to decide.

Nancy Mullane is the author of Life After Murder, due to be published in 2012.

Originally Posted August 27th Oakland Tribune

Juvenile offenders housed at the Muriel Wright Center in San Jose line up to head to lunch August...

Is it cruel and unusual punishment to sentence juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole and without the possibility of sentence review? That was the legislative question considered this week in Sacramento.

But after lawmakers in the Assembly deadlocked at 36 votes for and against a bill to create such a review process, it became clear that once again in California's corrections system common sense has become the sworn enemy of public policy?

Senate Bill 9, sponsored by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was hardly an apologist for heinous crimes committed by youth. It merely would have given offenders sentenced as minors to life without parole a chance to request a parole hearing.

Beyond the cacophony, fear and emotion that drive so much of the state's reactionary public policy, SB9 would have returned a small measure of sanity to the corrections system.

Supported by child advocates, mental-health professionals and civil-rights groups, the legislation would have provided an opportunity, after many years of incarceration, for review and resentencing for youths sentenced to life without parole.

It called for specific criteria and an intense, three-part review process that would result in the possibility of a lesser sentence for those offenders who have matured and proven themselves to have changed.

Moreover, it would have curbed the alarming trend of the state locking up minors and throwing away the key.

California is second only to Pennsylvania as the state with the most youth serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Under SB9, those sentenced to life without parole as minors could have petitioned a court to review his or her case after serving between 10 and 25 years in prison. If the offender met certain criteria, the court would review the case and decide, after listening to all sides, if a lower sentence should be imposed.

Not all petitioners would get a new sentencing hearing and those who did would have no guarantee of getting a lesser sentence. Even if resentenced, offenders must still face a parole board and must prove parole is merited.

The bill did not guarantee parole, only the opportunity to earn it.California also has the honor of possessing the worst record in the nation for racial disparity in the imposition of life without parole for juveniles. African-American youth are sentenced to life without parole at more than 18 times the rate of white youth.

Hispanic youth are sentenced to life without parole five times more often than white youth.According to Human Rights Watch, 45 percent of youth offenders serving life without parole in California were convicted of murder, but were not the ones to actually commit the murder. Moreover, nationally, 59 percent of juveniles sentenced to life without parole are first-time offenders -- without a single crime on a juvenile court record.

SB9 did not ignore that youth do commit terrible crimes. No one receives life without the possibility of parole for stealing a candy bar or spray painting someone's wall. It is a heinous act that involves the taking of a human life.

But there is a plethora of data that reveals young offenders have a greater capacity for rehabilitation. Recent findings in neuroscience confirm that brain maturation is a process that continues through adolescence and into early adulthood, and impulse control, planning, and thinking ahead are skills still in development well beyond age 18.

California has long since discarded any notions that its corrections system would emphasize rehabilitation. The result has been a series of tough-on-crime policies that have proved ineffective and costly.

My concern, before the vote, was that legislation might not have gone far enough. California has the nation's highest recidivism rate.

If the commitment to rehabilitation is not there, then the state is essentially playing musical chairs while feigning a small portion of compassion. Sadly, yesterday's vote confirms many in Sacramento were not ready to risk that possibility.

The Assembly will reconsider the bill in the next few weeks. Let's hope a few lawmakers find their moral compass by adding a modicum of common sense to the state's corrections public policy.

Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or e-mail him at byron@byronspeaks.com

Originally Posted August 26th San Francisco Chronicle

Sacramento --

For the second time in as many years, the Assembly defeated a bill Thursday that would have offered some juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison the opportunity for release - a measure that was adamantly opposed by Republicans and victims' rights groups.

The bill's failure followed more than an hour of contentious debate and several rounds of voting in the lower house, and came despite intense lobbying by Democrats backing the measure, including Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles. At one point after coming within one vote of passing, several Democrats pulled back their support, and SB9 ultimately failed by five votes, 36-36.

A spokesman for Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who authored the bill, said supporters will likely bring the measure up for reconsideration before the Legislature's session ends Sept. 9.

The bill would give inmates who committed a crime as a minor and were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole the hope for eventual release. Under SB9, an offender who has been in prison for at least 15 years, has worked toward rehabilitation and can prove they are remorseful could ask the court to reduce their sentence. If the court agrees, the inmate would receive a new sentence of 25-years to life in prison, and after serving at least 25 years, could appeal to the state's parole board for release.

About 295 California inmates are serving juvenile life without parole sentences - though backers do not think the majority would meet the bill's requirements for securing a new sentence, and note that even if they did, there is no guarantee the parole board will let them out. Supporters have focused on the approximately 45 percent of those inmates that were convicted under California's aiding and abetting law, which allows for a first degree murder conviction of accomplices. They cite cases such as that of 30-year-old Christian Bracamontes, who at the age of 16 was with a friend who shot and killed another teen during a marijuana robbery in Riverside County. Bracamontes is serving life without parole, while the shooter struck a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to 29-years to life.

Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, who carried the bill in the lower house, said the measure is a "simple matter."

"You either believe in redemption or you don't," he said. "This bill asks the question, 'Are you are the same person that you were 25 years ago?' It asks the question, 'Are you perfect, or are you a better person than you were 25 years ago? It asks the question, 'Have you ever made a mistake, and have you ever learned from that mistake?' "

Cedillo said members who believe in a human's ability to change should not have a problem supporting the bill; and he and other supporters cited research showing that adolescent brains are still developing.

But Republicans countered that redemption can take place behind bars, and that forcing victims' families to relive brutal crime through additional court and parole hearings would be unfair.

"It seems like we, as a state, are breaking our faith with the victims if we pass this bill," said Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine. "They were promised the criminal justice system will protect them and take care of them, and we are going to renege on that promise, maybe with the best of intentions, but it's wrong for the state of California to do that."

Wagner and others said these sorts of offenders already have the opportunity to ask the governor for a pardon or commutation of their sentence.

In California, juvenile offenders are not eligible for the death sentence, but under a ballot measure approved by voters in 1990 can receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole if they are charged as adults.

The sentence exists in 38 states but is not used in any other countries, according to the nonprofit Human Rights Watch, which sponsored SB9. In 2009, the state of Texas rolled back its version of the law.

Originally Published August 23rd WCN

Boy accused of murdering his dad's girlfriend will not go to trial as an adult

Jordan Brown was in 5th grade and 11-years old at the time of his arrest.

NEW CASTLE, Pa.-- The murder case against a Lawrence County boy charged with killing his father's pregnant fianceé now goes to the juvenile justice system. A Lawrence County judge issued a ruling on Tuesday that Jordan Brown is considered a juvenile meaning the case now goes to juvenile court. He was facing a trial as an adult because Pennsylvania law requires any child accused of murder to stand trial as a adult.

Brown was 11 years old state police alleged he shot and killed his father's pregnant bride-to-be, 26-year old Kenzie Houke, and her unborn baby in 2009 at a Wampum farmhouse.  Brown was arrested and charged with two murder counts.   If he would have gone on trial as an adult and later convicted, he could have become the youngest person ever sentenced to life without parole.

Brown's attorneys have argued that the boy's age should become important to the case as he could benefit from rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system.  A defense psychologist testified in January that an adolescent's brain does not control impulses in a "mature way." The boy remains in an Erie County juvenile detention center where they say he he has shown he is a candidate for rehabilitation.

The matter has been bounced around with appeals and rulings requiring the presiding judge to reconsider the matter.  Now Judge Dominick Motto has ruled the defendant a juvenile.

Brown has remained in custody at a juvenile detention center in Erie since 2009.  If he is convicted of the crimes in juvenile court, he cannot be held in custody beyond his 21st birthday.


Originally Posted August 23rd California Catholic Daily

Bishops, Jesuits pull out the stops to support bill easing life without parole sentences for juveniles

A group of about 50 people gathered at the headquarters of the California Catholic Conference in Sacramento yesterday morning and then marched to the state capitol, where others joined them in a vigil to support of a bill that would allow judges to reconsider life without parole sentences meted out to juvenile criminals.

The bill in question, SB 9, by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would allow judges to review the cases of juveniles sentenced to life without parole after they have served 15 years of their sentence. Judges would be permitted to re-sentence such juveniles to a new sentence of 25 years to life, which would mean they could be considered for parole and perhaps not spend the rest of their lives in prison.

According to Yee, his bill requires that juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole show remorse and progress toward rehabilitation before being allowed to submit a petition for consideration of the new sentence. 
The bill has the strong backing of the California Catholic Conference, the political action arm of the state’s bishops. 
“Sentencing a teenager to prison with no opportunity for parole completely eliminates any possibility of rehabilitation,” the bishops said in a statement on SB 9. “Young people should have a chance to turn their lives around.”

The bill, already approved by the state Senate, passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Aug. 17, and is scheduled for a vote in the state Assembly this week. If it passes, it would then go to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

“There is no question that youth who commit crimes should be held accountable -- but in a way that reflects their age and their capacity for rehabilitation,” said the Catholic Legislative Network in an Aug. 22 email. “SB 9 recognizes that young people have the capacity to change and should have access to the rehabilitative tools to do so.” (The Catholic Legislative Network operates under the auspices of the California Catholic Conference.)

There are currently 295 California inmates serving life without parole for crimes they committed before they were 18 years old. Most were convicted of murder, though some of them did not kill anyone but participated as accomplices in crimes in which the victim was killed.

Also issuing an “action alert” urging support for SB 9 and calling for participation at yesterday’s capitol vigil was the California Province of the Society of Jesus.

“As you are well aware, the California Province of the Society of Jesus is committed to ministry with people who are incarcerated, their victims, and the families of all those affected by their crimes,” said the Jesuit alert. “Through the work of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative, headed by Mike Kennedy, SJ and Homeboy Industries, headed by Greg Boyle, SJ, hundreds of people throughout the province have come to know the tragic reality that youth offenders in the state of California are regularly sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Effectively, these young men and women are sentenced to death behind bars for crimes that they committed at an age when they are incapable of understanding the consequences of their actions. One of the social priorities of the California Province is to participate in the transformation of our culture of incarceration into a culture that seeks restoration. The following action alert is an opportunity for everyone who lives in California in the province to participate in the beginning of such a transformation.”

“As people of faith, the California Province joins the California Catholic Conference and representatives from many other faith traditions in a common commitment to redemption and healing for all those affected by crime and violence,” said the Jesuit action alert. “On August 22nd, 2011 people of faith across the state of California will pray, meditate, and reflect on healing for all those affected by serious crime. We will remember victims, communities, offenders, and others. We will ask that Senate Bill 9 -- which creates the possibility for judges to review the juvenile sentence of life without the possibility of parole for certain inmates under in very limited circumstances -- be passed, allowing youth sentenced to life without parole a possible second chance.”

According to the Jesuit action alert, yesterday’s events not only included a “reflection” outside the capitol building. Participants also were asked to “go into the Capitol together to assigned locations in hallways for a vigil and presence,” as well as to lobby legislators.

Even in California’s Democrat-dominated legislature, similar measures have failed in the past because of what the Los Angeles Times characterized as some Democrats' “fear of being labeled soft on crime.”