A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision involving the imprisonment of juvenile offenders is being hailed by Prison Fellowship. The Christian outreach program to the incarcerated, ex-inmates and their families, praised a court ruling forbidding states from passing life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses.
“The high court’s historic decision is consistent with a long tradition of American jurisprudence that says young teenage offenders who have not committed homicide should be treated differently than adults,” said Mark Earley, Prison Fellowship president and former Virginia attorney general. “These are serious crimes that require incarceration, but these offenders are so young that there is a good chance they can turn their lives around, and we don’t want to rob them of hope of a better life.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court said, “Life without parole is the second most severe penalty permitted by law and is especially harsh for a juvenile offender, who will on average serve more years and a greater percentage of his life in prison than an adult offender.”
Prison Fellowship was one of several organizations who filed a friend of the court brief involving Terrance Graham, a then 16-year-old, convicted of committing armed burglary and other crimes. Five years ago, at the age of 17, Graham was sentenced by a Florida court to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court ruled that the Graham case and others like it are unconstitutional when the crime does not involve murder.
Earley remarked that everyone has the capacity to be changed adding that the, “…Supreme Court decision gives young teenage offenders at least a chance to be rehabilitated and go on to live productive lives, rather than be locked up forever.”
Kennedy noted that the 6-3 court decision does not guarantee eventual release for inmates incarcerated as juveniles, but opens up the possibility that they may be released at some point. According to the Nashua Telegraph, 2225 juvenile inmates have received life in prison without the possibility of parole, with most of those sentenced by the state of Florida court system.
At least 70 of the affected prisoners committed serious crimes when they were as young as 13 or 14, falling under the “cruel and unusual punishment” guarantee found in the Eight Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Prison Fellowship was started by Chuck Colson and is known for a number of programs including Angel Tree, its year-round outreach to 1.7 million children whose fathers or mothers are behind bars.
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