SCOTUS Guts Protections Against Sentencing Kids To Die In Prison

In a 6-3 vote, the conservatives on the Supreme Court gutted protections against sentencing kids to die in prison.

The court ruled on Thursday that a judge does not need to find that a person under 18 who commits murder is “permanently incorrigible” before sentencing them to life in prison without parole. In other words, the court approved life without parole sentences for juveniles even if the facts of the case indicate the crime was a result of youthful immaturity and impulsiveness that the individual is likely to outgrow.

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JLWOP: Juvenile Injustice

Today, about 700 peo­ple are still wait­ing for the resen­tenc­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty they were promised in 2016.

Anoth­er 1,450 have been giv­en reduced sen­tences but remain incar­cer­at­ed; some have become parole-eli­gi­ble but have been denied parole. Oth­ers’ new sen­tences are so long, they will not be parole-eli­gi­ble for decades. And so far, about 85 have had their life-with­out-parole sen­tences reaffirmed.

Espe­cial­ly now, as Covid-19 is spread­ing rapid­ly in pris­ons, such dif­fer­ences can mean life or death. It can feel like jus­tice by geog­ra­phy.

2015 analy­sis by the Phillips Black Project found that Black chil­dren were twice as like­ly as white chil­dren to be sen­tenced to JLWOP for the same crime. By 2016, peo­ple of col­or made up 38% of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion and 77% of those serv­ing JLWOP sen­tences. Peo­ple of col­or had 80% of JLWOP sen­tences in Penn­syl­va­nia, 73% in Michi­gan and 81% in Louisiana, the three lead­ing JLWOP states.

Pri­or to the Mont­gomery rul­ing, Penn­syl­va­nia, Michi­gan and Louisiana account­ed for more than two-thirds of the nation’s JLWOP sen­tences.

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Mercy For Juveniles

Kyle Rittenhouse can be charged as an adult, and if convicted, could face a life sentence without parole.

Despite the anger I have toward him and his supporters, I feel strongly that Rittenhouse should have the kind of mercy that my son—and so many other predominantly Black and Brown Children—did not receive.

He is too young for such a harsh punishment.

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JUVENILE INJUSTICE

The order came from a 15-year-old on a bicycle near a Chicago park in 2001: “Shoot him, shoot him.”

Benard McKinley, 16, obliged. And Abdo Serna-Ibarra, 23, never made his way to the soccer field.

McKinley was later arrested and charged as an adult with first degree murder for the killing of Serna-Ibarra. In 2004, Cook County jurors found him guilty.

The sentencing judge, Kenneth J. Wadas, went on to make an example of McKinley and his murder, condemning the young man to 100 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections — 50 years for the murder, and a consecutive 50 years for the fatal use of a firearm. The sentence was necessary to deter other criminals, Wadas said in court, and would enable others to play soccer with “one less Benard McKinley out there with a handgun blowing them away.”

With no chance of parole or early release, McKinley was doomed to either live to celebrate and surpass his 116th birthday, or grow old and die within the fortress of the state’s prison system.

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