The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth is asking individuals across the United States to mark their locations on a virtual map, in an online display of solidarity against the practice of placing juvenile offenders in jail for life.
The promotion, Stand Up for Fair Sentencing, allows Web visitors to list themselves on a map, which is color-coordinated to display the total number of prisoners sentenced for crimes committed as juveniles who are now serving life without parole in each state.
“This project is really meant to be a mobilizing tool to engage people interested in taking a stand for the fair sentencing of youth,” said Jody Kent Lavy, director and national coordinator for the organization.
The tool allows individuals across the country to voice their support for what Lavy described as “needs-appropriate alternatives” to juvenile incarceration. Once users sign onto the map, she said, the organization will contact signatories and update them about reform efforts in their respective states.
The project, she added, gives visitors a very quick glance at incarcerated juvenile populations across the nation. “People always ask, ‘How does my state fare compared to other states?’” Lavy said. “The idea is that we will update the map with different kinds of information for each state, so people can return to the website and see what’s happening.”
Instead of judging children based upon their “greatest failures,” Lavy said she would like to see a juvenile justice system that instead focuses on helping young offenders fulfill their greatest potential.
“This is the most extreme sentence we impose on our children,” Lavy said. “So we as a nation should be concerned about this -- and should be, frankly, outraged.”
James Ross, CFSY communications director, said that “every dot matters” when it comes to demonstrating mass support for juvenile LWOP reform on the interactive media platform.
“The Stand Up for Fair Sentencing project is a way for people to interact with this issue and our organization even if they aren’t yet ready to participate in a more time-intensive activity,” Ross said. “This type of project is unique because it creates an opportunity for people to move from passive recipient of information to active engagement with the issue.”
The states with the most juveniles serving life without parole sentences, he said, may not be the ones most people would assume. The gradated online map, he continued, is designed to get more individuals interested in the overall issue of juvenile LWOP sentencing.
Ross hopes stories of young people and families impacted by such sentences raises awareness about JLWOP, and prompts more Americans to rally behind reform polices that focus on “age-appropriate” alternatives that emphasize rehabilitation and reintegration services.
“When people learn more about this practice they often realize it is not an appropriate way to hold children accountable,“ Ross said. “Adolescence development research has demonstrated – among other things -- that children do not have the same capacity as adults to process the long-term consequences of their actions or avoid peer pressure. … This project introduces people to the issue and people can learn more about it as they go deeper into our site.”