Cruel and Unusual? Young Teens Sentenced To Die in Prison

Thirteen and fourteen year olds are too young to rent movies without the consent of their parents. They are not allowed to operate motor vehicles. They certainly can’t register to vote, or enlist in the armed forces. Yet they are old enough to be prosecuted in our adult criminal justice system and sentenced to the harshest punishment allowed by law. According to a report published by the Equal Justice Initiative in November 2007, there are currently 73 people spending the rest of their lives in prison, without the possibility of parole, for crimes committed when they were still in middle school. A life sentence without the possibility of parole is the harshest penalty available to youth in our criminal justice system. This level of punishment results in thousands of kids dying in prison for crimes they committed before their sixteenth birthdays. Roper v. Simmons, the 2005 landmark Supreme Court decision, outlawed the death penalty for crimes committed by juveniles ages 16 and younger on the basis that it was cruel and unusual punishment to execute anyone for a crime committed as a juvenile. Is it not equally cruel to force someone to spend the rest of their days locked in a concrete cell for a crime they committed as a teenager? The rest of the world seems to think so. International law specifically prohibits sentencing of children to life...

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