The high court took a step in the right direction on youth sentences
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Having worked in human rights for three years with Amnesty International, I welcome the Supreme Court's decision last week to bar mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles.
While the Supreme Court ruling falls short of an all-out ban on life without parole sentences for juveniles, the ruling in Miller v. Alabama continues the court's progress, that started with the 2005 case Roper v. Simmons (eliminating death sentences for juveniles) and the 2010 case Graham v. Florida (eliminating life without parole sentences except for homicide), to eliminating life without parole sentences for all juveniles. The United States stands with Somalia as the only two nations that have not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, resulting in 2,500 individuals who have been sentenced to life in prison without parole as juveniles (2,000 of which were sentenced because of the mandatory sentences struck down).
This is a step in the right direction to eliminating a biased law that has contributed to black youth receiving the sentence 10 times more than their white counterparts, and a law that has led to a hopeless sentence for the majority of those who have been convicted of their first crimes (59 percent).
As local governments, nongovernmental organizations such as Amnesty International and nonprofits such as Juvenile Justice Projects work together, there is a real possibility of reducing violence in communities.
The writer is Amnesty International student coordinator at Tulane University.
First Published July 4, 2012 12:00 am