Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A Shameful Record

The United States leads the world in a shameful category: the number of people it has locked up for life without parole for crimes committed by juveniles. Juvenile crime should not be taken lightly, but young people should not be completely written off.

According to Human Rights Watch, 2,380 people in this country are serving life sentences for crimes they committed before they turned 18. That makes the United States an extreme global outlier. Sentencing juveniles to life without parole is at odds with international law; the vast majority of the world’s countries ban the practice.

Some juvenile criminals commit horrible crimes, and the justice system should punish them accordingly. Juveniles, though, are not adults. Even their brain development is different, making them less able than older people to resist impulses. Consideration should also be given to the nature of the crime. In some cases, juveniles have been imprisoned for life for acting as accessories or lookouts for adults. Putting a 16-year-old who played such a role in jail for perhaps 65 years is an extraordinarily harsh, and expensive, societal response.

There are ongoing efforts in several states to impose sorely needed balance to the law. In California, the Legislature recently failed to act on a bill that would have allowed the more than 225 inmates serving life sentences there for crimes committed as minors the right to appear before a parole board after serving 25 years in prison. The bill deserves to be reintroduced, and to pass.

NY Times


Lisa said...

I'm so glad the NYT published their editorial and I'm hopeful that continued discussion of this issue might lead to some meaningful dialogue. In trying to research the history of this debate, it seems that both sides of the argument continue to lock horns: One side believing that harsh sentences in adult prisons are the only option for violent juvenile offenders and the other seeking shorter sentences. I'm new to this discussion but the answer has to be somewhere in the middle. If I could change things today, the first thing I would want to stop would be housing juveniles in adult prisons. I learned today that in Canada, violent juvenile offenders are given far shorter sentences (7 years was mentioned) with annual reviews and the opportunity for parole. Even if our minimum sentence were reduced to twenty years for juveniles, at least having the possibility for parole and providing the treatment and programs to facilitate rehabilitation would give those juveniles deserving of a second chance the resources to strive for it. There is nothing about the current way that we treat juvenile violent offenders that seems to be working. At the very least, I can't understand why opponents to offering juveniles a chance at redemption aren't fazed by the enormous costs associated with locking up juveniles until their natural deaths or why knowing that we are the least humane country on the planet with regard to juvenile offenders doesn't at least give them pause to reconsider.

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