A child comes into this world trusting and ready to learn. Florida is one state that has no concern for those kids that will never get to the starting blocks of life. Its social welfare funding rates at the bottom of the nation. Its education has also been at the bottom of the nation. The consequence is ‘…A decade before he was charged with murder, a 2-year-old Cristian Fernandez was found naked and dirty, wandering a South Florida street. The grandmother taking care of him had holed up with cocaine in a messy motel room, while his 14-year-old mother was nowhere to be found….‘ Someone should have seen the red flags and instead the story got worse and worse till this young man finds himself charged for the murder of his 2-year old brother. Without a doubt the wrong people are being charged. The charges of complicity to murder needs to spread like an inkblot to every social worker, legislature and governor that allowed such a system to exist over the years.
This story was not on the front page but the last story in the region section of the newspaper. You need to read to understand the horror and child abuse the state condones. Police: Fla. boy, 13, killed 2-year-old brother
The plight of juvenile offenders sentenced to life without the possibility of parole is another good case in point. Approximately 2,500 people currently are serving LWOP sentences for offenses committed when they were juveniles. This sentencing practice violates the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international human rights agreements and norms. Many youths sentenced to LWOP are incarcerated in adult facilities while they are still juveniles. Despite efforts to segregate these juveniles from the adult population, often in supermax-type conditions until they turn 18, many youths in adult prisons are still subject to physical and other abuses, including rape, by adult prisoners and staff alike.
States are beginning to rethink LWOP for juvenile offenders, or JLWOP. In recent years, legislation that would eliminate or restrict the use of JLWOP has been introduced in at least nine states. As discussed earlier, Graham v. Florida and Roper v. Simmons have been major catalysts for the reconsideration of JLWOP sentences. These two cases rested on persuasive new research in brain science and psychology about adolescent brain development, most notably that the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which regulates impulse control, is not fully developed in teenagers. Opponents of executing juveniles and of condemning them to life in prison argued that children and teenagers should not be considered fully culpable for the crimes they commit, however heinous or violent, because their brains are not fully developed until they are in their 20s. As a consequence, they have greater trouble controlling their impulses and resisting peer pressure
Political and legal strategies rooted in arguments about the underdevelopment of teenage brains have proven to be an extremely promising avenue to end or at least limit the use of JLWOP sentences. However, these strategies could be costly over the long term for those offenders who were sent away for life for crimes they committed as adults and thus when they presumably had fully-developed brains. Stressing that teenagers are not fully culpable reinforces in a backhanded way the idea that adults who commit serious crimes should have known better and thus are fully culpable. The brain scan approach to criminal justice bolsters narrow biologically deterministic arguments about why people commit crimes, which are enjoying a renaissance in criminology and in public debates about crime and punishment not seen since the heyday of the eugenics movement a century ago. This approach reinforces the popular view that people who commit serious crimes are biologically incapable of fundamentally changing.
Pennsylvania has about 450 juvenile lifers, or one-fifth of the country’s total, which is more than any other jurisdiction in the world. Under Pennsylvania law, mandatory life is the only sentence available to adults and youths convicted of first- or second-degree murder, and there is no minimum age for which a juvenile can be tried as an adult. The case of Jordan Brown, initially charged as an adult in early 2010 for killing his father’s fiancée when he was eleven years old, put an unflattering national spotlight on JLWOP in Pennsylvania (Jordan’s case has since been transferred to juvenile court). Pennsylvania has been persistently unwilling to commute the sentences of juvenile lifers who have served decades behind bars, even in instances where members of the homicide victim’s family have called for mercy and release. A newly formed statewide coalition is currently engaged in an uphill battle to get Pennsylvania legislators to reconsider the state’s widespread use of JLWOP sentences. At a legislative hearing in August 2010, JLWOP opponents focused extensively on the adolescent brain development argument.
The relative culpability of juveniles convicted of felony murder was also a central issue. One of the main witnesses testifying in favor of the legislation was Anita Colón, a charismatic, articulate woman whose brother, Robert Holbrook, is serving a life sentence in Pennsylvania for a felony murder conviction when he was 16. In her testimony, Colón underscored that almost 60 percent of Pennsylvania’s juvenile lifers were first-time offenders who had never been convicted of a previous crime and that about a third were sent away for life for a felony murder conviction. This is slightly above the national average of about 25 percent. Members of the House Judiciary Committee focused much of their attention at the hearing on the relative fairness of felony murder for juvenile lifers rather than on alternative arguments raised by Colón and other witnesses about redemption, aging out of crime and the huge economic cost of incarcerating so many youths until the end of their days.
In opposing the legislation, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association commended the Judiciary Committee’s recent efforts to reduce the state’s prison population by focusing on diversionary and other programs directed at people convicted of less violent offenses. “That is the cohort group our collective attention should be focused on – not on letting murderers out early,” the association declared in its written testimony.
The DAs’ association and other opponents framed the proposed legislation as a violation of the rights of victims and of Pennsylvania’s commitment to truth-in-sentencing. “It would be devastating and unfair to change the rules long after families of murder victims who were told that the person who murdered their child, spouse, parent or other family members would spend the rest of his or her life behind bars,” the DAs argued.
Representatives of victims’ organizations and other opponents of the legislation echoed this view and devoted much of their testimony to recounting gruesome details of crimes committed by juvenile lifers.
The debate over JLWOP illustrates how the death penalty continues to cast a long shadow over the broader politics of punishment and penal reform. As Roper v. Simmons wound its way through the courts, organizations representing the victims of juvenile offenders generally did not mobilize in support of executing juvenile offenders.
Assurances that juveniles who were spared the death penalty would spend all their remaining days behind bars were an important reason why. At the Pennsylvania hearings, representatives of victims’ organizations portrayed ending JLWOP retroactively and making juvenile lifers eligible for parole consideration as a betrayal. They contended that many victims’ families agreed to not push for a charge of capital murder due to assurances from prosecutors that the perpetrator would be locked up for life, thus sparing the family the seemingly endless appeals process of death penalty cases.Juvenile Lifers