Jailed for Life after Crime as Teenagers

There comes a point in every sentencing decision when sentencing bodies consider the offender’s future. Are we going to try to save or rehabilitate the individual? Are we going to try to protect society from this person? Should this individual be punished? These and related questions are asked, perhaps not externally but certainly internally by those tasked with sentencing offenders. There are times when the decision is to give up on an individual and a life sentence, or perhaps capital punishment, is in order. Historically, society has been reluctant to give up on youth, as they often were viewed as as salvageable. We all make bad decisions sometimes. Typically, however, our bad decisions don’t involve criminal or delinquent behavior. Our bad decisions that fall outside the law are rarely brought to the attention of authorities, so we don’t get caught. Speeding in traffic is an example. It s illegal. However, drive on any major highway and it is likely that many divers will exceed the speed limit. Some get ticketed, most won’t. Historically when juveniles have made bad decisions to break the law, the penalty has been mitigated in light of age and maturity considerations. Lately, however, we’ve increasingly seen teens and young adults held accountable for their bad decisions. We expect better decisions from our youth, largely in response to our concern for crime. There are some individuals who see no good in select individuals. Others believe there’s something good in everyone. Life sentences have long been used in corrections throughout the world. However, sentencing teens to life in prison is largely restricted to the United States. Although a few other countries maintain the possibility of sentencing juvenile offenders to life in prison and even fewer actively choose the option, the United States has witnessed a notable number of young adults being sentenced to life in prison. The practice is controversial for obvious reasons; however, the controversy has not discouraged sentencing bodies from imposing the sentence. Legislators create the laws by which we must abide. They also pass legislation that affects criminal justice practices. Sentencing practices are often influenced by legislative action. Legislators do not act alone, however. We elect individuals into office as our representatives. They are our voice in politics and policy making. Legislators hopefully respond to our wants and wishes. At some point legislators decided that juveniles in the United States should face the possibility of life in prison, that some youth are irreparable. Herein lies the controversy, as some would argue that everyone, especially juveniles, is reparable. Sentencing a teenager to life in prison sends the message that the individual is hopeless. Are there individuals, particularly young adults, whose actions suggest they are clearly unfit for life in a free society? Strong arguments could be made either way. Victims of violent crimes and their families would likely suggest that the offender be put away for an extended period. Those distanced from the direct effects of the crime may argue otherwise. Giving up on someone, including a juvenile offender, sends a strong message to the public and potential offenders that our criminal justice system is tough on crime, and it tells victims and their families that their interests, and justice, will be served. However, many hope that such a severe penalty is used in moderation with due caution.