Time to show mercy to young offenders

The United States House Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on a bill that calls for parole reviews for juvenile offenders sentenced to life imprisonment, says a press release from Baylor University. Did you take that in? Currently there are youths in American prisons serving life sentences with no chance of parole. Unbelievable!

Currently, the United States is one of only two countries in the world known to sentence offenders under aged 18 to life without parole. More than 2,500 youth offenders are currently serving such sentences in the U.S., and the estimated rate at which the sentence of life without parole is imposed on children nationwide remains at least three times higher today than it was 15 years ago. Black children are 10 times more likely to receive a life-without-parole sentence than white children.

Baylor law professor Mark Osler will be giving testimony today, urging that the legislation be enacted.

“More than half of the juveniles who receive life without parole are first-time offenders, and many are in prison for crimes short of murder,” Osler says. “Interestingly, the only other country which hasn't signed a convention outlawing such sentences is Somalia. So, it's us and the country that supports pirates. Is that really the kind of company the United States wants to keep?”

Historically, courts in the US have recognised the differences between adult and youth offenders, he says, and life with no chance of parole denies those differences. He believes in punishment for crimes, but says there has to be a balance between justice and mercy -- and a chance for redemption.

“Redemption also must be a possibility in sentencing. As a Christian, I see the person – the offender – separate from the evil he or she may commit. As a legal professional, I know very well that rehabilitation can fail, and can be very expensive. However, adults – particularly those of us who are people of faith – have an obligation to try to rehabilitate children who have committed crimes.

“All children deserve a chance to grow into productive adults – even those who have committed a crime as a child.”

And isn’t it time for society to face the social disorders -- like fatherless families -- that set children up for criminal behaviour?



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