Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Rights groups condemn US juvenile life sentences...

From Jurist: Paperchase

Human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch Wednesday called on US federal and state lawmakers to change mandatory sentencing schemes under which thousands of juvenile prisoners face the prospect of life sentences without parole. A new joint report entitled The Rest of Their Lives says that some 2225 prisoners are incarcerated indefinitely in the United States for crimes committed while they were minors; some 59% were put away for life for first offences. While researchers said the offenders shouldn't go "scot-free" there should be alterantives allowing the courts to set other types of punishment that are perhaps more effective; the report cites no data suggesting that life incarceration is an effective deterrent to juvenile crime, and notes that many imprisoned juveniles have suffered ill-treatment and abuse, ranging from violence to rape. Review the full report, an executive summary, and a state-by-state breakdown of relevant laws. AFP has more.

The summary notes:
In fact, an estimated 59 percent received the sentence for their first-ever criminal conviction. Sixteen percent were between thirteen and fifteen years old at the time they committed their crimes. ... Racial disparities are marked. Nationwide, the estimated rate at which black youth receive life without parole sentences (6.6 per 10,000) is ten times greater than the rate for white youth (0.6 per 10,000).

For example, in 1990 there were 2,234 youth convicted of murder in the United States, 2.9 percent of whom were sentenced to life without parole. Ten years later, in 2000, the number of youth murderers had dropped to 1,006, but 9.1 percent were sentenced to life without parole.

At least 132 countries reject life without parole for child offenders in domestic law or practice. And all countries except the United States and Somalia have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which explicitly forbids "life imprisonment without possibility of release" for "offenses committed by persons below eighteen years of age." Of the 154 countries for which Human Rights Watch was able to obtain data, only three currently have people serving life without parole for crimes they committed as children, and it appears that those four countries combined have only about a dozen such cases.
... One third of the youth offenders now serving life without parole entered prison while they were still children, in violation of international human rights standards that prohibit the incarceration of children with adults.
That's a sad state of affairs.

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