The Supreme Court has ruled: Under the Eighth Amendment, judges can no longer be required to hand down sentences of life without parole to juveniles, even in the case of murder. While convicted minors can still face life sentences with parole, judges can now take the perpetrator’s age into account. The 5-4 decision was written by Justice Kagan.
Over 2,000 juvenile offenders are currently serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. In some cases, these sentences have been given to juveniles who were not directly responsible for homicide, or may not have comprehended the nature of their acts. These young people face a lack of mental health treatment, greater risk of sexual abuse, and are more prone to suicide while they sit in prison. Without the possibility of parole, there is no hope, no reason for them to repent, no chance to turn their lives around.
Some do not see a problem with this. Those juvenile offenders took a life, sometimes brutally. Even if they didn’t fully understand what they were doing, teenagers are old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, excepting those with genuine mental or psychological disabilities. Their life prison sentence is just. Think of the victims. They didn’t get a second chance.
Those who argue this way are right to consider how this decision would affect the victims’ families. Too often, our justice system concentrates only on the law that was violated, ignoring the victims and their broken families. When your family member is abused or gone, it doesn’t matter how old the abuser or murderer is.
But is justice served—is society improved—if we put juveniles in prison for life without the possibility of parole? Think of the opportunity cost of slamming the door shut on another life. Given the chance of restoration, the juvenile who has committed murder or some other heinous crime may examine his life, confront his actions, and repent. Perhaps he would be motivated to seek forgiveness from the victim and/or the victim’s family, allowing them to find peace and healing. Perhaps he would be a voice against violence, touching the lives of others through his experience.
All of this is far, far less likely to occur if a juvenile has no hope of getting out of prison. If you are going to die in prison no matter what you do, why try?
Juveniles are more likely to reform than adult offenders. Justice Fellowship applauds the Supreme Court’s decision to give more of them the opportunity to do so.
To read more about former Supreme Court decisions regarding life without parole sentences for juveniles, click here.