facebook.com/PennsylvaniaPrisonSociety -- In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons that the death penalty is unconstitutional for individuals sentenced for crimes committed as juveniles because a child's mind is not as developed as an adult. However, children can still be sentenced to life sentences and in some states, including Pennsylvania, life means life -- there is no parole eligibility. Pennsylvania holds more juvenile lifers than anywhere else in the world and may get one more – a 12-year-old. The Commonwealth is one of 13 states that can apply this type of sentence with no minimum age requirement.
There are currently more than 2,500 individuals serving life sentences for crimes committed as a juvenile: 59% had no prior convictions and 26% were convicted because a co-defendant committed murder. These children stand a higher risk of being raped, murdered and assaulted or committing suicide while incarcerated.
No other country in the world sentences juveniles to a life sentence without possibility of parole and in doing so, the U.S. is at odds with three United Nations' resolutions: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, The Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and The Convention on the Rights of the Child. The U.S. and Somalia are the only two countries that have not ratified this document.
If girls as old as 15 can not be responsible for consensual sex, why can a child of 11 be tried as an adult and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole?
On March 29, 2010, 12-year-old Jordan Brown was denied the chance to be tried in juvenile court for a 2009 crime. Pennsylvania juveniles charged with murder are considered to be adults, but a judge’s decision can move the case to juvenile court. Lawrence County Judge Dominick Motto denied this move. The child is accused of fatally shooting his father’s fiancée and unborn baby. Despite testimony from a defense psychologist that a juvenile’s brain is not fully developed, the prosecution psychiatrist argued that Jordan is unlikely to be rehabilitated through the juvenile court.
One of the main issues is that sentences for juveniles are drastically different. If sentenced in juvenile court, Jordan would be released from juvenile detention at the age of 21 with no criminal record. If sentenced as an adult, he would spend the rest of his life in prison.
If convicted, Jordan will join more than 2,500 individuals nationally and 450 individuals in Pennsylvania who were sentenced to crimes committed as juveniles. These children will spend their lives in prison because in Pennsylvania, all life sentences are precluded from parole eligibility. These juveniles serving life sentences are at higher risk of being raped, murdered and assaulted or committing suicide while in prison.
Jordan is not unlike most fifth-graders – he’s interested Harry Potter, playing pee-wee football and doing well in school. And like the majority of U.S. juveniles sentenced to life, Jordan had no previous issues of delinquency.
Jordan has spent this past year in juvenile detention. In a recent interview with Good Morning America, Jordan’s father, Chris Brown said, “He looked like a baby in an orange jumpsuit in an adult jail." He then went on to say he “believes his son comprehends what he stands accused of, but he doesn't appreciate the magnitude of it. He's simply too young."
Pennsylvania leads the world for individuals sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles and if convicted, Jordan will become the youngest person in American history to receive life in prison without the possibility of parole. What is the age cut-off? Will a 10-year-old be next? A 5-year-old?
Please treat children as they are – children. The United States, specifically Pennsylvania must draft amendments or modify sentences regarding juvenile life without parole and it must be done now, before another child grows up in prison.
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