Prison Commentary: Sentencing Children to Death - Week 4

Course: HNRS 302: Extreme Punishments: Life, Death, & Solitary Confinement
Written: February 5, 2014 

Published: February 22, 2017
© All Rights Reserved

Written during Destiny's junior year of college, Destiny poignantly provides commentary and reflection on readings for the week for a University Honors course titled "Extreme Punishments." Each reading required the illumination of the following 4 structure components: takeway(s), a free write, a quotation(s) of interest, and a question(s). 

Sentencing Children to Death by Incarceration: A Deadly Denial of Social Responsibility

Takeaways

  • 8th Amendment prohibits cruel & unusual punishment (Roper v. Simmons)                                                    
  • Graham vs. Florida: juvenile offenders (non-murderous crimes) are exempt from life without parole
  • Juvenile murderers can be rehabilitated in most instances
  • The ethics of death by incarceration differs from the legality of death by incarceration
  • Non-white & poor families need non-racist leaders to empower them without the "white man is the devil message"
  • Dwayne Betts is fortunate to have not been sentenced to life without parole

Free Write

Initially, when I read the title I thought of social responsibility from a business perspective because we often hear that term in business.  To see it used in a legal and emotional way was refreshing.  The authors’ purpose is quite clear; to inform the audience that juveniles are often unaware of the devastating consequences and implications of their crimes.  However the law doesn't take juveniles’ personal issues of poverty and immaturity as an alibi. Instead, the law subjects them to cruel and harsh sentencing.  The authors also acknowledge that life without parole is another form of the death penalty.

The most important problem presented is the impact of sentencing juveniles to death by incarceration. This is a loophole in the 8th amendment which states we can not subject them to the death penalty because it qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.  In contrast, there is no prohibition from sentencing a juvenile to life without parole. Consequently, there is a growing occurrence of mass incarceration. According to the article, life without parole is basically a death penalty.

While some may think ‘don't do the crime if you can't do the time,’ the authors debunk this way of thinking by emphasizing that society has a social responsibility to lower the risks of juvenile crime. They also argue and support the claim that juveniles can be rehabilitated and should be given a second chance.

Mass incarceration also subjects young offenders to foster care which creates even more vulnerable youth. The fundamental inference here is that death by incarceration will continue unless society rethinks how we develop & punish juveniles.

The mainstream counter here is SO WHAT WHO CARES? At-risks individuals provide several jobs.  Is it logical to think every lawyer, judge, or politician works to empower poor-non white youth?

To develop these youth, I am proposing an interfaith initiative that focuses on a common moral code: thorough constitution understanding and self-sufficiency methods.

Quote

  • Last paragraph (pg. 204)

Question

  • How do we accurately define juvenile?

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