Wednesday, October 12, 2005


"And I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole."
-- Merle Haggard, Mamma Tried.

I always presumed that kids were only sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in cheesy country and western songs, but this AP story in your Chicago Sun-Times proves otherwise:
There are 2,225 people serving life terms in prison without parole for crimes committed as children, most of them in a handful of states where judges don't have the discretion to impose lighter penalties.

A report being released today by Amnesty International USA and Human Rights Watch found that a surge in violent crime in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to tougher sentencing laws and a jump in the number of juveniles sent to prison for the rest of their lives. ***

"Kids who commit serious crimes shouldn't go scot-free," said Alison Parker, senior researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch. "But if they are too young to vote or buy cigarettes, they are too young to spend the rest of their lives behind bars."

The groups say the sentence amounts to cruel and unusual punishment for criminals who may not be mature enough to grasp the consequences of their actions.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by every country in the world except the United States and Somalia, forbids sentences of life without parole for crimes committed as children, and at least 132 countries have rejected the life without parole altogether.

In Illinois, there are 103 youths serving life without parole sentences. Illinois has 14.46 per 100,000 14-17 year olds serving life without parole sentences ranking it 17th out of the 40 states covered in this report.

Illinois has a ratio of 15.7 black youths for every white youth sentenced to life without parole giving it the 10th highest black/white ratio out of 27 states.

The full report (.pdf) is available here.

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