Jennifer Bishop Jenkins On Punishment and Teen Killers

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Jennifer Jenkins

Jennifer Jenkins

“Some persons will shun crime even if we do nothing to deter them, while others will seek it out even if we do everything to reform them. Wicked people exist. Nothing avails except to set them apart from innocent people.”

— James Q. Wilson, Harvard Professor and Crime Expert

My youngest sister was the joy of our close family. When a teenager murdered her and her husband in 1990 in suburban Chicago, she was pregnant with their first child. She begged for the life of her unborn child as he shot her. He reported to a friend, who testified at his trial, about his “thrill kill” that he just wanted to “see what it would feel like to shoot someone.”

This offender is now serving three life sentences in the Illinois Department of Corrections. According to Charles Stimson, a leading expert in criminal law at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, he is one of 1,300 cases nationally of a teen killer sentenced as an adult to life, sometimes called JLWOP (Juvenile Life without Parole).

There are advocates who wish to minimize these offenders’ culpability simply because of their age. As a high school teacher, I have worked lovingly with teens all my life and I understand how hard it is to accept the reality that a 16 or 17 year old is capable of forming such requisite criminal intent.

We in America have to own this particular problem, with weapons so easily available to our youth, and the violence-loving culture in which we raise them. The Innuit people of northern Canada had no juvenile crime at all until 1980 and the introduction of television into their culture.

Both sides in the debate about JLWOP agree: Teens are being tried as adults and sentenced to prison for murder at alarming rates in the United States. But this actually disproves juvenile advocates’ reliance on the “underdeveloped brain” argument. If brain development were the reason, then teens would kill at roughly the same rates all over the world. They do not. Advocates often repeat, but truly misunderstand brain research on this issue. The actual science does not, according to experts such  as Professor Stephen Morse, and others, in any way negate criminal culpability.

The offender in our case was a serial killer in the making. He came from privilege. Whenever he got in trouble, his parents fixed it. After a series of other crimes, he planned the murders for months, carefully and privately. He did not act on impulse or because of peer pressure. He was not mentally disabled — in fact was quite intelligent. But he got a rush out of breaking the law and ultimately started work on his other plan for mass murder at a local bank. Bragging to friends led to his arrest.

There are no words adequate to describe what this kind of traumatic loss does to a victims family. So few who work on the juvenile offender side can truly understand what the victims of their crimes sometimes go through. Some never recover.

The nationwide campaign to end JLWOP has spent millions of dollars advocating for these convicted murderers to be set free. Not a dime has been allocated for victim outreach or support.

With absolutely no regard to the impact on victims’ families, they have published glossy “reports” widely distributed to the media and legislators. They feature propaganda photos of 7- and 8- year-old child models on the cover, with misleading headlines that the United States was “sentencing children to die in prison.”

For the record, the nation is NOT sentencing children to die in prison. This photo is pure propaganda.

The juvenile death penalty was abolished here years ago and a life sentence still allows a great deal of good living to be done – even from behind bars – far more than these teen killers gave to our murdered loved ones.

Many JLWOP offenders are repeat violent offenders and many have killed multiple people. The propaganda campaign by the well-funded juvenile advocates attempts to paint a different picture.

Consistently, they don’t talk about the facts of the crimes, just the “poor children in prison.” And while we respect their right to advocate for reform, some of which is needed, we have begged them to embrace the victims of these crimes as well, and take a truly inclusive and restorative justice approach to their advocacy. Our pleas have fallen on mostly deaf ears.

The offender advocates have also promoted another horrible lie — that the United States is the only nation that sentences teens to life for murder. In fact, at least 11 other nations do, according to Stimson’s research. Many nations do the equivalent and far worse -– the juvenile death penalty, selling teens into sexual slavery, forced labor, sexual mutilation and the list goes on. Many nations do not have separate juvenile justice systems such as the enlightened system we have here, and many nations torture offenders of all ages without regard for human rights.

Legislative proposals for reforming JLWOP have been retroactive but without any victim notification, in full violation of constitutionally protected victims’ rights. Advocates who wish to believe in the nobility of their actions cannot wrong murder victims’ family members in this way without losing all credibility.  Restorative Justice shows us the way out -– a conversation focused on victims needs, with all stakeholders at the table.


54 thoughts on “Jennifer Bishop Jenkins On Punishment and Teen Killers

  1. Spanish I am a law graduate with training in criminal law and prison regulations. 2 years ago online keep in touch with Jennifer Bishop Jenkins to denounce the deadly consequences of mercy to the murderers. Jennifer greatly appreciate your interest in Spanish criminal law, and I congratulate you on having realized that if the U.S. follows the path of Spain, the victims lose all their rights.
    Greatly interested me Seth’s comment. No doubt your good faith.But the mistake of Seth and other advocates for more lenient sentences to criminals is to ignore the experience of other countries in their policies on crime.
    Portugal, Spain and Norway have softer penal systems in the world, in fact these are the only European Union countries that have no life imprisonment.
    Abolition of life sentence, conjugal visits, gymnasiums, swimming pools (sic) in prisons …

  2. Mr. Sorensen:

    Firstly, you totally mischaracterized my statement regarding the killer of your son. That individual, given the circumstances, certainly deserves a lengthy sentence. However, as you claim I do, you have bundled all of your emotions and pain regarding your son’s killer into a cover all description of all children who commit serious crimes and end up being tried as adults.

    Obviously the guarantee you seek from me is impossible to give. In the same way, I could ask you to guarantee the safety and well being of every child imprisoned in the United States. My demanding that you guarantee that there will be no instances of children being raped or assaulted by older inmates or staff at prisons is just as unreasonable as the assurances you demand of me.

    The best we can and should hope for is that children who commit serious crimes and who are imprisoned can be provided with the opportunity to rehabilitate, the counselling necesssary to recognize the pain they have caused, and the education they require to become productive members of society. That is a dramatic failing of our criminal justice system and, until it changes, kids are going to become worse in prison and a greater danger than before they entered.

    Clearly there are situations that demand harsh and lengthy terms in prison. It sounds as though the killer of your son falls into that category, but what about a significantly younger child who never acted out in violence before and who is thrown into a prison system they cannot possible hope to survive in.

    The primary thing most juvenile justice reform advocates strongly oppose is minimum mandatory sentencing. It simply should not exist. Every individual trial court judge should have EVERY option in front of them to determine a sentence. EVERY trial court judge should have the option of giving a kid a chance at rehabilitation, OR a much more serious sentence that is primarily focused on punishment.

    Too many states tie the hands of trial court judges. Twelve year old Christopher Pittman killed his grandparents while involuntarily intoxicated on Zoloft (Pyzer, the drug’s manufacturer did everything they could to assist the prosecution to insure a conviction). Chris’ trial court judge, a very reasonable man who certainly would have insured a just, but fair sentence, was forced to give this child 50 years in prison. Chris, now long off of Zoloft, is a great kid and living in an adult prison . . but there is a good chance he will never live to see the outside world and, if he survives, will certainly have nothing to offer society as a middle aged man who grew up, from a pre-teen, in prison.

    Why couldn’t his trial court judge have worked out a sentence which included regular review of his rehabilitation and possible release, because the law prevented this reasonable approach to the crime of a 12 year old boy.

    Now I suspect you and Ms. Jenkins will claim this to be just another anecdote, but I assure you that Chris is so much more than that. Since his initial arrest, and the elimination of his Zoloft cocktail, he has strived to be so much more than the child killer he was. Sure, even kids like Chris, will get into trouble when caged with dangerous felons . . often times those instances are forced attempts to save one’s life or to prevent assault . . but basically this kid deserves a chance that he can never be given because of minimum mandatory sentencing.

    Your cover all opposition to the reform of arcane mandatory JLWOP and similar sentencing schemes is based on your own experience and, as horrible as it may have been, there are OTHER stories like that of Chris which deserve attention and consideration as well.

    Nobody can reasonable advocate for killers to be magically released from prison, just because they killed as children . . but everyone deserves the chance to be heard and have the opportunity to allow authorities to consider release for those who’s circumstances are extreme, like Chris Pittman’s. To prevent that kind of review and consideration is no less unjust than to allow a blanket release of all JLWOP inmates.

    • Mr. Osborn will you please stop putting words into my mouth and making, as you say, arcane assumptions. I personally support making all sentences, including JLWOP, optional. I am not speaking for NOVJL now, but I am on the victim advisory group to the US Sentencing Commission and I do not think that mandatory sentences serve justice in the United States. Mandatory minimums may have their place, given the wild abberations of some judges, but if they stay generally within the guidelines, which are very carefully crafted, we should as a nation be able to do away with mandatory sentences as a whole. So don’t assume you know what my position is. Every case is different, and judges and experts in those particular cases need to have the ability to make variations in decisions based on each case.

    • Mr. Osborn,
      I could not possibly have mischaracterized your statement regarding the killer of my son because I don’t remember you making such a statement? As far as I am aware this is the first time you have responded to one of my posts.

      And no, I haven’t bundled all of my emotions and pain regarding my son’s killer into a cover all description of all children who commit serious crimes and end up being tried as adults. I very clearly acknowledged that there are certain to be some juveniles that have received LWOP that would not be a threat to kill again if they were released. I,however, did state that neither I nor anti-JLWOP advocates such as yourself can guarantee which of these convicted killers, if released from prison, will not kill again. Even you, Mr. Osborn, cannot guarantee 100% that Chris Pittman will not kill again. And I am not willing to be an advocate that may be partially responsible if one of these “Children” are released and kill again.

      I beleive that each “Child” that is arrested for committing the act of murder needs to be impartially evaluated as to whether they should be tried as an adult or a child. And if it is determined that they acted in an adult manner, i.e. the crime was an act of premeditation, then they should be tried to the fullest extent possible as an adult and receive an adults sentence.

      I also think that your support of NO sentencing minimums is the utmost folly and I would never support that. To give that kind of power to a judge could lead to unpresidented corruption. And if you don’t realize this you are niave in the extreme.

      A little story Mr. Osborn. In the early stages of the appeals process for the killer of my son the original trial judge was removed from hearing the appeal due to prejudice against this young murderer. I had no problem with this because it was true. The judge looked the killer in the face at sentencing and stated she was glad he had been found guilty because she knew he was evil and would, if given the chance,kill again. The appeal was assigned to Judge Bruce Morrow. He has a nickname in Wayne County. “Let em loose Bruce” On the first day of the appeals hearing the killer’s parents were allowed into the courtroom but me and my wife were not allowed to enter(nor were the press) The prosecutor informed the judge that it was a violation of state law and our Constitutional rights to deny us, the victim’s parents, entrance to the court. Judge Morrow’s reasoning for refusing us admitance was that “the Constitution is not an absolute”. We were denied our rights by a liberal judge who violated state law. The State Appealate Court let him know he was wrong and he was advised that he had violated State law and not to repeat the mistake again. Later Judge Morrow allowed testimony that had been barred from the original trial to influence his decision to grant my son’s killer a new trial. He used the 6th amendment, the denial of right to a fair trial, as his reason for granting the new trail. In June the Michigan Appellate Court in a unanimous three judge decision denied every point of appeal presented by the killer’s lawyer, thus confirming that he had misapplied the 6th amendment. It now moves on the the Michigan Supreme Court where the lower Courts very thourough decision will most likely be upheld.
      My point in this story. As long as Judges remain human and have personal political agendas or are simply ignorant of the law they are supposed to apply a fair application of the law and sentencing cannot be guaranteed. A liberal judge will impose one sentence while a conservative judge would most likely give a different sentence. This is why I oppose having no sentencing guidelines. It keeps politics and personal ideology out of the sentencing process as it should be.

      Lastly, you keep implying that those of us who support jlwop are uncaring about the possible abuse inflicted upon juvenile convicts. Did you actually read my post? I made it VERY clear that I did not advocate that harm should be inflicted upon my son’s killer. Therefore I do care what happens to these young KILLERS. I don’t know what State you live in but in Michigan prisoners 17 and under are NOT allowed in with the adult prison population. They are segregated until they reach the age of adulthood (18). Maybe that is problem in the state you live in but not in Michigan. Maybe you should advocate for a change in they way juveniles are incarcerated in your State.

      My son was never given the chance to decide whether or not he wanted to be murdered. If he had been I’m almost positive he would have chosen to live. What a selfish thing it was for him to get murdered and subject his killer to so much trauma while in prison. My son’s killer, however, did have choice. He chose to take my son’s life and in so doing deprived me and my wife the joy of watching our son grow-up, fall in love, choose a wife , get married and have children of his own. And give us a gift of love we will never have: The gift of grandchildren. Whether you care to believe it or not each one of these teens that have been sentenced to LWOP also had a choice. They chose to kill. They now need to live with the consequences of their actions and if they do get hurt in prison it is because their actions, MURDER, put them in the position to be harmed. Sorry if I’m not overly sympathetic.

      You read the story of the Utah. You said the request I made of you was equally unreasonible. No it isn’t, you are just a coward. I know you cannot guarantee that anyone released because of your afforts would not kill again. That was sarcasm. I did asked you if as an advocate of doing away with Juvenile Life Without Parole sentencing you would be willing, if one of these now paroled killers was to kill again, to go to the victim’s family and inform them that you are one of the people responsible for helping the killer get out of prison. Of course you wouldn’t do that. That would be taking responsiblity for your actions just as you do not want these killers to be held responsible for their actions. Even with my son’s killer you agree that he may deserve a long stay in prison, but the tone of your response seems to imply that you do not think he should stay in prison for life.

      I hold no belief that I will ever get you to change your opinion on the JLWOP debate, neither will I. We’ll agree to disagree. I do, however, hope to point out the flaws in the argument that is presented by the anti-JLWOP advocates. And in so doing induce the fence sitters to join the side of real justice.

  3. I do understand that not every juvenile that has been sentenced to LWOP would kill again if they were to be granted a parole hearing and then be granted release. But not one of you that advocates that JLWOP be given a chance at freedom can guarantee that these convicted killers will not kill again.

    First off let’s disabuse ourselves of the notion that these killers are sent to prison to be rehabilitated. They are sent to prison as punishment and to remove them from any interaction with members of “Normal” society, not for rehabilitation. If they become rehabilitated it is a choice they make at great effort.

    Let me make it very clear that I do not and have never advocated that any harm should be done to the killer of my son. In fact, on the day my son’s killer was sentenced we(me and my wife) informed the Wayne County Prosecutor that this young man’s life could be endangered by angry friend’s of my son. If we desired that he be harmed we would have kept our mouths shut. However, through the grapevine we have heard that this now 21 y.o. has been a very angry individual while serving his time. If released I could see this person taking revenge on those witnesses that testified against him at trial. Although I do not wish him to be harmed I for one pray that he never gets that chance to step outside prison walls. My wife and I would be at the top of his target list.

    At a younger age I worked a number of years at the Utah State Psychiatric Hospital in Provo. I worked on units that housed very violent patients. Many patients had been sent to the hospital after having murdered someone and then having been found guilty by reason of insanity . This was prior to the Utah State Legislature outlawing Guilty by reason of insanity and adopting Guilty but insane. This change in the law allowed for the imprisonment of anyone convicted of murder to be transfered to prison if they were found to no longer be considered insane. Prior to the laws change a psychiatrist could order the release of a criminally insane patient if it was determined that such a patient had returned to “clinical” sanity and was no longer a threat to kill again. However, the law in Utah also stated that if the psychiatrist was wrong and a released patient did kill again then the Doctor could be held both criminally and civilly responsible. During my time at the hospital several of the patients I worked with fell into the category of returning to sanity but not one psychiatrist was willing to put his/her job on the line to sign release papers for any of these these people.

    How many of you who advocate the reduction of sentences and the granting of release from prison of JLWOP would be willing to guarantee the safety of the public at large by giving up your own freedom and the financial security of your family if you are wrong? If one of the people that you helped to get released does kill again, will you be willing to go to the newest victim’s family and say “I’m sorry, I was responsible for helping the killer of your family member to get their sentenced reduced from LWOP and obtain their release from prison.”

  4. I’m sorry. Perhaps I misread your response. Do you, or do you not support the sanction of life without the possibility of parole for a 13 year old child? At what age do you support such a aanction?

    The state of Vermont has no minimum age for application of life without parole and adult sentencing for children. Do you support sentencing children to such adult penalties at ANY age? What is the minimum age, if any?

    Do you feel that if children (any age under 18) are to be subjected to these kinds of laws, that they ought to at least be afforded the right to cast a ballot in support of such laws or the legislators who propose them? Do you support the right of self determination among the age group you claim should be inserted into the adult criminal justice process?

    I’m confused, because the only thing your website advocates is the right to be informed. If that is the ONLY thing you are interested in, then why promote the imposition of these kinds of sentences against kids?

    • Of course we support just punishment for those who murdered our loved ones. I suspect you do too, Mr. Osborn. You are pressing for simplistic answers to VERY complex matters, however, and I am sure if you read our website, you will see what we stand for. We stand against killing. We stand for the Constitution and for rights. We stand against propaganda about killers. We stand for telling the stories of our murdered loved ones so they will not be forgotten. We stand for justice and public safety. We stand for victims rights. We stand for the availability of a wide array of sentencing options for teen killers so that courts can do what the Constitution requires that they do. I am sure you can read what is there about who we are. We are not “promoting” anything except perhaps for a greater understanding about the tragedy of ALL of this.

      • Mr. Osborn if you would go to Go to the Michigan page and look up Daniel Gene-Vincent Sorensen. Read the discription of my son’s murder as told by my wife. Then tell me that this then 17y.o. killer should be allowed out of prison someday. On one of the days when he was being transported to court he sat in the police van and laughed at how he killed my son and confessed to another prisoner how “when I win this trial I will never make the same mistake again next time”.

        The trouble with the legislation you advocate is that it is painted with a broad brush to include all those who fall into the under 18 segment of the prison population who have been sentenced to LWOP. As i’ve tried to show, that is a very dangerous ideology.

        My wife and I have already spent almost 3 1/2 years going through personal pain and suffering while this killer’s lawyers have moved his case through the appeals process. We have had to live with the unproven lies told about our son while the lawyers have demonized our son in an effort to gain a new trial for their client. And yet those of you who advocate the abolishment of JLWOP would subject my wife and I to a life of pain as every two years we would have to appear before a parole board to plead our case for having our son’s killer kept in prison. Yes, you have the right to fight for what you believe in but it is sad that so many of you have more compassion for these savage killers than you do for the families of the victims. The atitude seems to be that “your son is dead and in a better place and we can’t change that but the killer shouldn’t have to be punished the rest of his life because of an error in judgment”.

      • “We stand against propaganda about killers. We stand for telling the stories of our murdered loved ones so they will not be forgotten. We stand for justice and public safety. We stand for victims rights.”
        Amen girlfriend!!!

  5. Ms. Jenkins:

    Very well, you state that your organization does not advocate life sentences for 13 year old children. Perhaps we do not have such a great dispute regarding this issue.

    Please tell me, under what specific circumstances and at what age should JLWOP be implemented, according to your group’s stance?

    If you are talking about a 17 year old kid, who has had multiple run ins with the law and commits a murder during a drive-by shooting, then ASSUMING the kid is fairly tried and convicted, I will go with your position on this matter. WHAT is your minimum age? When is it that a child is no longer a child and should be subjected to a potential “living death sentence.”

    In the case that you were involved with, as well as Mr. Sorensen, I agree that a lengthy sentence needs to be imposed. However, at which point do we make the move from child to adult?

    Perhaps we need to look at our children differently. If we are going to say that 16 year olds should be subjected to life without parole as a mandated sentence, do we not owe it to 16 year olds to give them the right to vote; the right to self determination? Why is it that only the negative consequences of “adult actions” result in the granting of adult status.

    I’ll tell you what . . I’ll fully agree that all 16 year olds should be subjected to adult sanctions, across the board . . if you will agree to fully and completely support the concept that 16 year olds should be able to vote and be offered complete self determination, in the same way that an 18 year old is in these United States.

    You want legislation that forces 15 year olds to be subjected to the same negative consequences, at least have the heart to allow them the opportunity to VOTE for or against those kinds of laws, AND to offer them the ability to self determine their lives in the same way 18 year olds do.

    Society has set 18 as the arbitrary age at which ALL kids become adults in the United States. What the change the boundries . . then change the law on both the negative AND positive side.

    The problem with knee jerk reactions is that they lead to unfairness and injustice on BOTH sides of an issue. You want kids to suffer the consequences of adulthood, then MAKE THEM ADULTS.

    • Mr. Osborn –

      Our entire policy position is laid out very clearly at our website at Victims families are not monolithic, and state laws and situations vary widely, especially in sentencing. We do not have any specific positions except this: Murder victims family members are fully entitled to be informed of any proposed legislation that would retroactively change a JLWOP sentence BEFORE it gets voted on. They have a right to be heard, just as they were when the sentence was taken up in court. That is law in all 50 state and federally. Legislation is no different, if it has the same net effect as a new sentencing hearing.

      Most of our members believe that the JLWOP sentence should be at least AVAILABLE in the most extreme cases of dangerous teen killers, which it seems that you support.

      Many of our members support some reforms to the law. Others support execution for anyone who would ever kill anyone else deliberately. Others strongly support restorative justice. Victims families are as diverse as you might expect. We stand only for their rights as victims to be notified of, and heard in, all matters pertaining to their case.

  6. Jennifer Bishop Jenkins and I have a difference of opinion.

    I am a member of The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. It is dedicated to ending the practice of sentencing youth to prison for the rest of their life because people should not be declared worthless and stripped of the opportunity for rehabilitation due to acts committed in their youth.

    One thing Jennifer and I have in common is that someone we loved was killed by teen agers. My grandmother, Ruth Elizabeth Pelke, was brutally murdered.

    Paula Cooper, who was 15 years old at the time of the crime, was sentenced to death by the state of Indiana in 1986. In 1987 the Indiana legislature passed a bill raising the minimum age for a defendant in a death penalty case from 10 years old to 16 years old. In 1989 the Indiana Supreme court took Paula Cooper off of death row because Indiana changed the law. She is still in prison today, but she is no longer on death row. In 2002 Indiana raised the age for eligibility for the death penalty to 18. In 2005 the US Supreme Court in a Missouri case, Roper VS Simmons, ruled that no longer could anyone be executed in the United States for a crime committed under the age of 18.

    I was at the US Supreme court on the day the Simmons case was argued and heard evidence that was presented about the juvenile brain and its development. The Court determined that today our society views juveniles as categorically less culpable than the average criminal.

    In both Jennifer’s and my case the juvenile was declared a sociopath by experts. From there the cases differ. Paula Cooper is not a sociopath, she is remorseful for what she did and she has worked hard while in prison to prepare for her eventual release. She obtained a GED and a general college degree and worked in various prison programs. Paula Cooper has changed. She is no longer that 15 year old girl who committed that terrible crime back in 1985. Paula learned how to hate as a result of her father’s abuse. Today she is a caring, loving person who wants to give back to society. She wants to help others who have been raised in abusive situations and point out to them how the way she responded to was wrong. She wants to let them know that violence is never the answer.

    Paula Cooper will be released from prison on July 1, 2013 after serving over 28 years.

    I have been in communications with Paula for many years and have visited with her on several occasions. I am so happy that Paula was not sentenced to life without parole. It would be terrible to think that she never would have a chance to get out of prison. I have no problem with a person sentenced to a number of years in prison before parole is possible. 20, 25, 30, or 35 years, but to say never is an injustice for our society.

    People can change and if they do they should have a chance for release, if they don’t change and remain violent then don’t let that person out. If Biro doesn’t change, then he should never get out.

    Jenifer says the nationwide campaign to end JLWOP has spent millions of dollars advocating for these convicted murderers to be set free and not a dime has been allocated for victim outreach or support. Actually, there is money allocated for victims, but the resentment is clear when she said, “Many JLWOP offenders are repeat violent offenders and many have killed multiple people. The propaganda campaign by the well-funded juvenile advocates attempts to paint a different picture.”

    I can only speak for my case. Paula Cooper did not have a criminal record nor have I seen any well-funded advocates attempting to paint a different picture. I see people who are concerned for the human rights of all, doing what they think if fair, compassionate and humane.

    Even people who “thrill kills” can change. I will never forget the cases of Karla Faye Tucker. She stated that it was a thrill when she killed. Karla Faye Tucker became one of the most rehabilitated murders that anyone in this country has ever seen.

    I am a juvenile advocate and I suppose that at best we can only agree to disagree on this issue. I have known Jennifer for many years and know that we will remain friends. There are many more things that we agree on than we disagree with.

    I am a firm believer in restorative justice. Too me it is a two way street, not just victims, but victims and perpetrators that both need to be restored.

    • I have nothing but love for Bill Pelke, my old friend. And because I know that he does believe in Restorative Justice, I can only believe that he will join me in standing for ALL the victims families of those killed by these incarcerated teen killers, that are the subject of so much energy and effort, to have a full place at the table in the public policy discussion. The Bill Pelke I know and love would never support victims families to be hurt in this way, left out of a political discussion about a piece of legislation that would profoundly change their lives. Restorative Justice means ALL stakeholders at the table.

      • Jennifer,
        I would not be supportive of any discussion that could lead to life without parole for any juvenile offender. We should work more on rehabilitation programs in our prison systems. If David Biro can’t be rehabilitated he should never be released. But each juvenile should have that chance to change and look forward to a day that they might be free if they learn to behave. That hope is what they need. That is what society needs.
        We cannot bring back our lost loved ones, we can only deal with those that remain. I am so glad Paula Cooper did not end up with life without parole. She will have a chance to prove that people change. And experts tell us the odds of a juvenile changing his ways are much better than a hardened criminal.
        I don’t want to cause pain to anyone. The answer is love and compassion for all of humanity.

        • I know you don’t want to cause pain, and you know I have stood at your side every time, Bill, many times, calling for love and compassion with all my might. I do it every time I talk about my sister’s murder and how she died leaving us a message of love in her blood. Her dying words inspire me every single day, as I know your grandmother’s love inspires you.

          You can hear the “but” in my voice, I am sure, dear friend.

          You have contradicted yourself. You say you don’t want to hurt anyone, but you seem to be willing to hurt every other victims family like yours who has a right to decide where they stand on JLWOP, but who has no idea, because no one has told them, that the debate rages on without their voices.

          When I found out that there was a bill filed in Illinois that would potentially free the man that killed my sister, her husband, and their baby without our knowing or being heard in the legislation, we were all VERY hurt. Hurt because it violated our constitutional rights, and most of all because it would sentence my elderly mother and my young children to a lifetime of annual hearings, being forced into unending re-engagement with a sociopath who is nothing like the young woman that killed your grandmother. Our guy is unrepentant and still a very dangerous sociopath. Even advocates against JLWOP in Illinois are the first to admit our killer should never get out. If we all agree to that, why should our family be sentenced to a lifetime of torturous unending legal battles with him? No, Bill, the loving and compassionate thing to do is to end JLWOP as a MANDATORY sentence and allow case by case decisions to be made so that people like Paula Cooper can get out, and people like the offender in our family’s case stays in, giving our family some measure of peace.

    • Mr Pelke,
      I’m very confused. You state, “Actually, there is money allocated for victims,” But I haven’t seen that to be the case in the Detoit area. An area that has a very high rate of Juvenile Killers. My son’s murder was a very high profile case making news world wide. The trial of ny son’s killer was shown on what was then Court TV on the in session segments. It was even replayed one year later. So People knew who me and my wife were. Not one victim’s advocacy program reached out to help me and my wife. In fact when I went looking for a victim’s support group there were none to be found unless it was sponsored by a local church group.

      The local Detroit Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children was pretty much none existant. Their funding was so poor thay were forced to hold neeting on a very infrequent basis. Not even one meeting every 2 to 3 months. Their web site had not been updated in over two years. So at least in the Detroit area there is very little in the way of funding of victim support programs. I can’t speak for anywhere else.

    • David Biro is an animal. He lacks any human qualities and is completely apathetic and could have cared less how many people died for the “thrill” of it. He is not “…a caring, loving person who wants to give back to society.” Nor does he want anything to do with restorative justice. He is exactly where he should be.

  7. Another thing I find disturbing about some of these posts. In order to justify a parole hearing for teens convicted of murder and sentenced to LWOP the posters site studies that state that the TEEN BRAIN is underdeveloped and these killers should therefore not be held to the same standard as Adult killers. What I have to ask is does that mean that on a teens 18th birthday his/her brain switches automatically to maturity? When is that mystical age point where an individual becomes an “Adult”?

    The 17y.o. who took my son’s life was 5 months away from his 18th b-day. Does this mean that if he had waited 5 months a LWOP sentence would have been justified? This killer methodically carried out a complex plan in which he killed my 26 y.o. son. If his brain had been as immature as many posters claim, he would not have been able to carry out such a complex murder. In June the Michigan Appellate Court denied all appeals pesented by the killer’s lawyers essentially locking him up for the rest of his life. I,my wife, my son’s friends and family are very satisfied with this result. The irony is that all during the appeals process his attorny repeated over and over the mantra that the killer was not responsible for his actions due too his underdeveloped brain. The court did not agree.

    Anyway, the U.S. Supreme Court disgrees. Last year in Florida v. Graham the High court ruled that juveniles convicted of murder and sentenced to LWOP but did not PHYSICALLY participate in the actual act of murder must be given the oppotunity for parole. However the justices also stated that it is NOT cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a teen convicted of 1st degree murder to life in prison without parole. The implication is that the Supreme Court Justices do not agree with those that claim that the teen brain is underdeveloped. So the undeveloped brain is a specious argument.

  8. LWOP is a very sensitive and personal issue for some and an important and relevant issue for all. Continued open communication and a way to make this work so that victims families and the public are protected, is imperative, as is the juveniles committing these crimes being given the appropriate consequences for their crime. In some instances, kids, just like adults, do commit heinous, premeditated crimes. I do believe that some people are indeed, “wicked”, whether they’re 14 or 44. I lived within 4 blocks of the 16-year old that took the lives of Ms. Jenkins’ sister and her family. I knew her sister personally. To say that it rocked their world as well as the community in which we lived, is an understatement. No one here is debating the horror in which something like this causes to the people left behind. David Biro killed Ms. Jenkins sister, her unborn child, and her husband, in cold blood. He showed no remorse, never apologized, nor even admit to the murders. He also ignored any outreach of contact by Ms. Jenkins. When he was arrested initially, his picture was placed on the cover of our local paper. Biro stuck his tongue out at the photographer, grinning sarcastically. He was 16-years old when he murdered this innocent family, just for thrills. Prior to that, he had many brushes with the local police. Petty theft, vandalism, burglary, and trying to poison his own family to death. He took pot-shots with a BB-gun from his bedroom window at people and cars passing by and openly bragged about the killings while planning his next murder at a local bank. His parents enabled him and ignored the many negative signs of danger and ill-intent their son exhibited to his teachers, police and medical personnel. Biro was a ticking time-bomb. In my opinion, this is a person who should never be allowed to live in society again. His sentence of LWOP is just in this case. LWOP shouldn’t apply to kids who commit lesser crimes. There must be consequences for crimes committed, with LWOP reserved for the very worst.

  9. I know that Ms. Bishop-Jenkins is not bent on vengeance against convicted offenders, not even sadistic murderers. She and her family were publicly proactive in successfully lobbying for abolition of the death penalty in Illinois.

  10. I was hoping I would not have to chime in again. First to address Seth, who works for the Pendulum Foundation in Colorado that works to end all JLWOP sentences there: Seth is angry because we called out the Pendulum Foundation for breaking a promise made to us three years ago to work positively with all the JLWOP victims families before proposing any retroactive legislation. And in his post, he is absolutely lying. I gave him the names of the only three victims families in Colorado I knew. And I did notify all our allies in Colorado of their interest in Restorative Justice. If they chose not to contact you, its probably because your behavior there has shown you to be untrustworthy. Seth, you have slandered and you need to retract immediately. You are getting out of hand and you are hurting your movement there. You have some nerve speaking for the legitimate interests of victims and their families when you are advocating to free their loved ones murderers without even notifying them of your efforts.

    As to the Inuit reference, you dare to call me a racist? You truly do not know me, nor the work I do. I am a retired teacher who works in many causes for the education of those less advantaged. I just today left a luncheon for PUSH Excel for helping kids in schools, to help prevent violence, working with Rev. Jesse Jackson to get better educational resources to the inner city students in Chicago. One of the many associations I had in the past was with people trying to get me to consider coming up to work with the Inuit teaching in remote regions of Canada. They were the ones who shared their concerns with me, that I repeated in my blog. You truly do not know what you are talking about, Seth, and your comments are immature, ad hominum, and desperate sounding.

    All NOVJL has EVER asked of the Pendulum Foundation is that you expend at least an equal amount of resources on providing information and support to the victims families as you do to the convited murderers. That has obviously not happened, and now you want to publicize this conflict between our groups onto this national blog? And you are their Communications Director? You think this is helpful for the Pendulum Foundation’s work in Colorado against JLWOP?

    We stand by our only position – that victims families have a right to be at the table in the national public policy debate about JLWOP. Thats all. Your accusations that we are vengeful are shameful, self-serving, and inaccurate. And I hope and pray that your child is never murdered and that you never have to deal with people who cause you so much re-traumatization by constantly having to make you re-live the crime over and over again, dealing with people like you. As to your concerns about our fact support, see my response to Mr. Osborn.

    Mr. Osborn – The number of JLWOP cases is in serious dispute. Please see the lengthy documentation of this issue at our website at But in short, you are quoting a number that is an ESTIMATE -because they could not get an actual count. An early 2005 Human Rights Watch report “For the Rest of Their Lives” published an ESTIMATE of JLWOP cases nationally counting 19 year olds in their estimate methodology, even though 19 year olds do not qualify as JLWOP – only 18 and below. As the juvenile advocates published inflated estimates, that there are over 2500 cases of JLWOP in the United States, has been repeated over and over again in the media. Legal expert Cully Stimson in Washington DC, author of Adult Times for Adult Crimes, actually conducted the only count of JLWOP cases, and actually contacted every single Attorney General in the states to count the cases. All but 6 states responded, showing a number of almost 1300 cases. The number could be slightly higher with the 6 unresponsive states. But buried deep within the Human Rights Watch report is their own admission that Stimson’s number was correct. Page 25 of the HRW 2005 report. The link is here:
    The sentence says, “We have data on age at offense for 1,291 of the child offenders sentenced to life without parole.” When you read their entire report, including footnotes, you realize that this is probably a fairly good number, and may (as Stimson says in his book) represent the lions share of JLWOPers in the country. Our request to advocates against JLWOP is: produce your names. Produce your case numbers. Produce the source of your numbers. Produce the records of the cases. Misinformation hurts our nation’s ability to have a legitimate discussion about the issue. The national news media often does not have time or resources to dig deeper and will publish what advocates send them. We have posted every single name of every single case we have found in the nation on this website. We know we aren’t even close to getting the 1300 names. Our two most comprehensive lists are 60 names we have from Illinois and 250 or so we have from California. We will publish here any lists of any cases of JLWOP from any state. The advocates against JLWOP need to STOP citing ANY NUMBERS of JLWOP cases in the USA until they can produce names of all the cases.

    As to funds available for victim outreach, of course there are government monies for victims. You did not read my blog carefully, clearly. I was talking about the millions in grant monies from Soros, Peter Lewis, and others to groups that work against JLWOP. There is no money for NOVJL, the only group of victims of these offenders. And there has never been any of their millions used to help educate us or support us or reach out to us. And I have to wonder – without the millions from these funders, would there even BE an anti-JLWOP movement this well staffed?

    As to the brain research, first no one in NOVJL is advocating for a life sentence for a 13 year old who commits murder. Nowhere have we ever said that. And if you will, again, visit the Myths and Facts section of our website, you will see a page on this issue about the brain research debate. You will see some of the top neurologists in the nation quoted as denouncing the mis-application of the frontal lobe information in explaining the behavior of teen killers.

    Of course we all care for our youth. I would stand the work of my life to help teens, especially troubled ones, against anyone else. It is unfortunate that you chose to turn this blog, this plea for help from a murder victims family member who is trying to change the dynamic of a very negative national public policy debate right now, into some online battle for factual superiority. You lack compassion, and what is more you seem to lack wisdom about how best to make the changes needed in state legislatures all over the nation to implement your vision.

    I DID pledge to help offenders after my sister’s murder. My record is quite public and lengthy on that matter and I do not need to defend it here, except that you seem to be very interested in personal attacks instead of trying to move the policy ball down the field, so to speak.

    Life without parole for anyone who commits only highly aggravated first degree murders is the law of our land. I did not make it so. I wish I never had to know anything about it. Time talking to you is time I can’t be with my own children . . .wasted.

    • Dear Ms. Jenkins,

      If I have said something slanderous, I apologize. My passion for the Inuit stems from a total of 2 1/2 years I spent living with and visiting a family on the North Slope of Alaska working first as a community outreach specialist and then, later, as the Village Training Manager for the local community college. I also spent a year authoring a final project on new media for Inupiat language revitalization in graduate school and became intimately familiar with the historic conditions that led to language loss and are, now, credited by many with increased crime.

      With regard to your other points, I think that conflict–when it is constructive–is always healthy. One thing I’ve learned from this conflict is that some victim advocates support the concept of restorative justice and others do not.

      I agree that victims have the right to be at the table. It was our understanding via District Attorneys that victims were represented in all negotiations concerning state legislation last year. If it is felt that victims were inadequately represented, I would be happy to put anyone who is interested in contact with the Executive Director at the Colorado District Attorney’s Council.

      With regard to your other points, I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree. Actions simply speak louder than words.

      • Seth, YOUR actions and words have spoken volumes of late. You have so much more work to do than just apologize. And if you truly agree that victims have a right to be at the table, then the THREE families that district attorneys had time to find out of how many dozen in Colorado that should have found out about your last minute no-notice attempt to file retroactive legislation this last spring without any notice to anyone violates your own stated principles. They found out about the bill on a Friday when the hearing was a Tuesday. They scrambled to find a few, but they should not have had to scramble at all. No one can negotiate with a gun held at their head. Your sneak attack legislation was just such a threat. After your words on this blog, your twitter feed, your own website, and ours with the name calling, the vitriol aimed at victims families, the total lack of compassion and good judgment, I am not sure what your principles might be, if any. Who attacks murder victims family members? You are virtually alone in your willingness to do this, and so publicly. I suggest that you stop.

      • While this was addressed to Jennifer, I am compelled to address a couple of points that I feel are misleading or outright false.

        For starters, there is nothing constructive about the anti-victim sentiment of or personal attacks against Jennifer in the Pendulum Foundation’s recent posts. The venom and vitriol – not passion, there’s a difference – I’ve seen over the past couple of days have been anything but healthy.

        Second, I have a problem with your statement that the Pendulum Foundation thought vicitms were represented in the latest legislative process. Your Executive Director said in an email to one of the legislators ““…we discussed this bill with victims who supported our efforts. They just aren’t the ‘appropriate’ victims.” And the Executive Director of the Colorado District Attorney’s Council, who you mention in your post, sent a letter to the chair of the House Judiciary Committee stating that he didn’t feel adequate notification had been given to victims’ families and that to his knowledge, no sponsor of the bill even attempted to notify any victims or their families.

        I will agree with your last point, though, that actions speak louder than words. And those of the Pendulum Foundation and its representatives have been deafening.

        • So, apparently, victims were contacted. Thank you for clearing that up, Ben. Again, if you feel that victims were not adequately represented, I’m happy to put you in contact with those who have claimed to represent victims’ interests in Colorado in the past.

          • Yes, the bill’s sponsors and groups like yours reached out to, in your Executive Director’s words, “victims who supported our efforts.”

            The problem is, the Victim’s Rights Amendment, Article II, Section 16a of the Colorado Constitution, says that you have to inform *all* of the victims, not just the ones who support you.

          • Thanks Seth. I’ll let the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council know that you, a representative of the Pendulum Foundation, are claiming in a public forum that we appear to an excellent due dilligence claim against them and that they had more than a month to act. (Despite the fact that public records show the bill was introduced on March 18th and voted on on March 29th)

          • Ben,
            The Pendulum Foundation is not a state-run organization. District Attorneys, as I understand it, are officers of the state. They may have an obligation to inform victims. While you may not be satisfied with the victims’ outreach that we did, we at least tried.

          • As elected officials, I hope that District Attorneys do take it seriously. They were well aware of draft legislation long before the introduction date.

          • As I understand it, third-party state agencies can’t take action on possible language of draft legislation before it’s introduced. I was under the impression that they can comment on the draft to the sponsors but until the sponsors finalize the language, other agencies can’t act. (Hard to act on a bill when you don’t know its final language, you might notifiy people who end up not being affected, not notify others who should have been notified, etc…) So to claim a lack of due dilligence on their part would seem a little reckless if that’s the case.

            But, I’m not a lawyer so I’ll just take your advice and get email the CDAC.

          • Ben,
            I’m not a lawyer either, but I’m not citing the constitution. All I know is that District Attorneys knew of the bill long before it was introduced and had plenty of time to prepare for its introduction. If, as you say, the bill was introduced on the 18th and heard on the 29th but you only heard about it 3 days in advance then clearly whoever informed you could have done so 8 days earlier, but neglected to prepare.

  11. While I certainly don’t want to challenge Seth’s comprehensive knowledge of Alaska and its residents from the year he spent living there, I do take exception to his completely off-base characterization of Jennifer Jenkins.

    As far as I know, the Pendulum Foundation has never provided a list of JLWOP inmates in Colorado. (Not surprising since they have recently indicated that they consider long-term juvenile sentences to be the same thing as life without parole.) How can anyone be expected to provide a comprehensive list of the families of victims without knowing who the perpetrators are?

    Even in the he-said/she-said world of internet comment boards, seeing a representative of the Pendulum Foundation, an organization whose open contempt for victims I have seen first hand, accuse anyone of misrepresenting themselves sets a new standard for irony.

      • Seth-

        I’m familiar with that page since it so prominently features the guy who killed my cousin.

        I didn’t think the list of prisoners on that page is comprehensive, though, since it doesn’t include Jonathan Matheny, who you indicated is considered by the Pendulum Foundation to be an LWOP inmate with his 66-year sentence. I think that if the Pendulum Foundation is going to want a comprehensive list of *all* victims’ families, they should be able to provide a list of *all* inmates they consider to be JLWOP inmates.

        • Ben,
          As we’ve indicated we would very much appreciate a comprehensive list of all victims’ families in Colorado. That said, if a list could be developed from the one we’ve supplied, we would happily expand it from there.
          Thank you.

          • Seth-

            To be clear, I don’t work for or with Jennifer and I don’t represent her organization in any way. I am supportive and appreciative of the work she does on behalf of victims and their families and as far as I’m concerned her choice to provide that information is hers alone.

            That said, given the remarkably ‘anti-victim’ sentiment displayed by the Pendulum Foundation and their representatives recently (saying victims have “too much power”, calling Jennifer a liar and her organization manipulative and vengeful, etc.) I will be recommending to my family that they ask to be excluded from any victims list provided to the Pendulum Foundation so they don’t find themselves the targets of similar attacks.

            The law mandates that the state must notify victims and their families of any process that would modify an inmate’s sentence. As distrustful as I am of the State, I think my family would be better off relying on them for notification that to open themselves up to the kind of hurtful and demeaning attacks that have been coming from the Pendulum Foundation and its representatives.

  12. I have a real issue with people, like you Mr Osborn, who ride around on your morally superior high horse and want to tell those of us who are victims of juvenile killers how they would react so different. If their family member was murdered they would honor the memory of the victim by doing all they could to make sure the killer was rehabilitated.

    Well my son was murdered just as Ms. Jenkin’s brother was. The killer, now serving LWOP in the Michigan Dept of Corrections, planned his crime months in advance. He even told one co-conspiritor who he was going to kill(My Son) and point by point how he was going to do it. This 17 y.o. lured my son to his grandfather garage.He then allowed my son to follow his cohort into the garage where he, standing behind my son, reached around and slit my son’s throat followed by stabbing him 13 more times in the heart and liver all while my son gasped for life while asking his killer why. But killing my son wasn’t enough. He then used a blow torch to burn the prints off my son’s fingers and toes. Next he cut off my son’s head. With help from two helpers my son’s headless body was loaded into the killer’s truck, taken to a remote location where it was pushed off the truck and soaked in gasoline and then lit on fire. The next day my son’s head was thrown in a local river only because the police where hot on his trail. He had wanted to strip the flesh off my son’s head using draino so he could keep the skull as a souvenir.

    And yet if I feel this killer should stay in prison for life you Mr. Osborn say it is because I want vengeance. How dare you. I want him left in prison for life because I want JUSTICE for my son, whom after almost 4 years I still shed tears for almost every day. What a sanctimonious person you are. You have no idea how you would feel having never experienced the pain of losing a loved one in such a horrible manner. And how dare you tell me what my motivation is for wanting this killer to stay in prison. This killer made it very clear that if he got away with this crime he wouldn’t get caught next time. And yet you with your morally better than thou atitude would lump this killer into the group that should get a chance at parole. Some of your views are naive, ignorant and dangerous.

  13. Let me be clear on this point. Ms. Jenkin’s claim that her “pleas have fallen on deaf ears” is an outright lie. I, personally, spoke with Ms. Jenkins about pursuing a restorative justice approach to advocacy in Colorado and she told me that she would get us a list of victims in Colorado. She failed to do that.

    When I spoke with Ms. Jenkins, I was also told that she would send a letter to her supporters detailing my organization’s interest in a restorative justice approach to advocacy. She did nothing.

    I can speak from personal experience when I say that Ms. Jenkins has a talent for misrepresenting herself, her organization and the legitimate concerns of victims and their families.

    • As one of those people Ms. Jenkins represents I am very appreciative of all the hard work she does. So Seth, please speak for youself if you have a problem with Ms. Jenkins but refrain from speaking on behalf of the rest of us whom she represents honestly and with integrity.

  14. Ms. Jenkins:

    As a former resident of Northern Alaska (where Inuit is the dominant culture) I am offended by your racist disregard for the challenges that the Inupiat and Inuktitut people face. The absence or proliferation of crime in the North is not the result of television. Crime, as it has everywhere, has always existed in the North. It was simply not reported to some Western agency which you might recognize as “legitimate” before the 1980s. Rather, crime was dealt with in the community, by the community in accordance with the cultural norms of the Inuit people.

    If there has been a proliferation of crime in the North, it is a result of decades of cultural domination, the introduction of alcohol, the systematic assimilation through the erasure of language, and the deportation of children to prison-like boarding schools through the 1970s.

    Let me pose this as a possibility. You and your organization aren’t interested in facts (from the posts above, they clearly aren’t on your side), you’re interested in vengeance and vengeance alone.

    That’s a sad fact and while I empathize with you for your loss, its time to admit that in the end juvenile life without parole isn’t just a cruel and unusual death sentence, its a net loss for society.

  15. Ms. Jenkins:

    Unfortunately, your claims of over reaching statistics and other elements of your argument against advocacy have the same failings as you claim mine does. You claim “he is one of 1,300 cases nationally of a teen killer sentenced as an adult to life, sometimes called JLWOP (Juvenile Life without Parole),” a wholly inaccurate number. In fact there are 2574 JLWP inmates in the United States (including 37 in federal prisons. You understate the problem by more than %50 and then make the claim that the arguments of juvenile justice reform advocates are exaggerated.

    Your scientific claims are clearly one sided. When you state “The actual science does not, according to experts such as Professor Stephen Morse, and others, in any way negate criminal culpability.” Yet far more experts will conclude that the criminal culpability of an 11, 12, 13, 14 or 15 year old child is very often negated. One sided “experts,” promoting such findings exist on both sides of the table, but your article suggests only juvenile justice reform advocates are in the wrong.

    You claim, “Not a dime has been allocated for victim outreach or support,” which is utterly untrue. Millions of dollars are collected for victim outreach and support programs throughout the United States and funded with fines imposed in drunk driving and other criminal matters involving the imposition of court fines.

    You also argue that “The offender advocates have also promoted another horrible lie — that the United States is the only nation that sentences teens to life for murder. In fact, at least 11 other nations do,” another blatant mischaracterization. The claim is in regards to juvenile life WITHOUT POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE, wherein Somolia and the United States hold that distinction. Many middle eastern countries murder children under the guise of execution for such horrible crimes as being gay or lesbian. Clearly this is a miscarriage of justice, as well. Other nations, like our neighbor Canada, dole out juvenile life sentences, HOWEVER they do so with regular reviews of sentences and rehabilitation efforts to allow the possibility of parole.

    You suggest that juvenile justice reform advocates are wrong when they say that children are sent to die in prison. In fact, when a 12 year old child is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, that child IS being sentenced to die in prison.

    No person can reasonably argue that the victims of juvenile crime should not be heard, counselled and offered the support of the community and nation. However, our justice system is supposed to be about the protection of the whole of society (INCLUDING the offender), not about getting vengeancefor in INDIVIDUAL victim.

    Your own personal situation is tragic, without a doubt. If your claims about the offender in your case are true, then I agree that it is one of the more extreme cases that deserves a harsher punishment. However, as is often the case, victims and groups of victims get together and bundle every child offender into the same basket.

    The cases a noted previously you describe as mere “anecdotes,” suggesting that these children are merely the collateral damage of our system. These children are real and what we are doing to them is no less a crime than that committed by an extremely abusive parent; it is state sanctioned child abuse.

    It goes well beyond juvenile life without parole. Thousands of children are given adult sentences for far more crimes than this nation has seen in a very long time. THESE children are the ones that society will regret failing, because they will be returned to society as middle aged or elderly adults with no job skills, no education from a very early age, and no chance at survival in society except for a return to crime, which they learned extensive lessons on while serving with older and more dangerous felons.

    I have pledged that, should me or a family member ever be the victim of juvenile crime, I will honor that victimization by making every effort to help the juvenile offender. The greatest honor to the memory of a victim of juvenile crime is a strong and serious effort on the part of the survivors to ensure (IF POSSIBLE) the rehabilitation and redemption of the juvenile offender. Sometimes that goal is impossible to reach, but making the attempt does far more honor to a victim and does more to better society than the vengeful joy of seeing a youngster caged and then trying to forget he or she exists.

  16. Marshall –

    While I certainly will not dispute your comments, what you are basically advocating for, it seems to me, are two things:

    One, that no life without parole (LWOP) sentences should exist for ANYONE. And that, two, biological and developmental factors could always be found to “excuse” or make less culpable any criminal behavior.

    Regarding LWOP, first, these are decisions made by society and by our duly elected governments over the last many decades. In the 1800’s and before, death sentences were doled out for all sorts of things. As we have civilized, that has changed. And perhaps one day, LWOP will have evolved to be more rare as well. Certainly LWOP is rare now. But that is not up to the victims – never has been, never should be. Victims do not set punishment. Society does.

    So it is up to you all who lead the public policy debate about sentencing to make the case that there is NO place for LWOP. The fact is that society decided after seeing what certain people were capable of that they should not be allowed ever to walk among us again. That is the law now in most places.

    Work to change it if you feel you should. But please consider in that work that you must BALANCE what you propose as a solution to what torture you cause victims families when you simply transfer the life sentence from the offender to the victims family in long sentences with regular parole hearings.

    Murder victims families then have to spend every year or so for the rest of their lives and into their children’s lives a constant legal re-engagement with the killer that it become LITERALLY torture (I can definitely prove the proper desciption of this as TORTURE with examples beyond number). I don’t think that the answer to your concerns has to be torturing already devastated families.

    To be honest you have to ask yourself, since all “justice” is a “balancing” act – if there are certain offenders who likely will never meet the legal qualifications for parole release, is it worth torturing the victims families just for them to have a chance at a release that we can measurably conclude they will never qualify for?

    Second, regarding biological and developmental factors that explain criminal behavior. The debate is indeed raging about that. But again, what you seem to propose is something that could ultimately lead to every single violent criminal facing a courtroom arguing against harsh punishment for horrific crime by arguing that factors in their makeup somehow reduce their culpability.

    Where do you draw the line? Everyone could blame their biology, their parents, their schools, whatever. At what point do we have to conclude that some people are so dangerous, who are capably of torturing innocent people and murdering them for the “thrill” of it, and simply make the practical decision to keep them away from us?

    Its a difficult issue, and one that our entire legal system will be grappling with for some time to come, no doubt.

    I don’t know what will come of it, but I do know that many, many people have the same biology and the same problems and NEVER choose to kill.

    And I do know that all murder victims families deserve at least as much compassion and support as do their killers. Yet we do not see this from the well-funded advocates against JLWOP.

    I support working to identify psychopaths who are going to be truly dangerous and treat them separately than the vast majority of other offenders who should be helped to be rehabilitated wherever possible.

    And I appreciate your acknowledging that victims families should be embraced in this debate.

    Jennifer Bishop Jenkins

  17. Hi Jennifer – Your article spoke to the fact that there is that small population of about 1,300 juveniles offenders who must be appropriately punished for the calculated, heinous crimes that have committed. Your work and your advocacy is very important – despite the “small” population, because as you know the crime, the brutal horror of it, and the sustaining aftermath of murder extend far beyond any boundaries that most people can even begin to comprehend. Well said! Mari Bailey

  18. Mr. Osburn – First, I am sorry that you seem to have missed the point of my article – that advocates against JLWOP should compassionately embrace the victims of these crimes in order to advance good public policy discussion. You in fact seem to embody the problem – hostile adversarial battle, even with name calling. I am not ignorant nor a sadist. How dare you. And how weak must you feel your position is, to have to resort to such rhetoric.

    So let’s try again. Deep breath.

    I don’t dispute that there are certainly examples of extreme over-reaching in the criminal justice system. You can cite anecdotal case stories all day long, as can we on the other extreme, describing single cases that show that the sentencing laws need to be changed.

    I think we can agree that the problem of mandatory sentencing of all kinds, across the board, has led to quite a few miscarriages of justice, especially in over-sentencing lesser culpable offenders who fall into broader descriptions.

    But HOW will we work to change those problems? By demonizing those who have loved ones murdered by truly dangerous sociopaths who science and experts can clearly show to be dangerous, and who need to be kept away from us?

    Or will we sit down, ALL stakeholders at the table, and work out together what needs to be changed, and what needs to be done?

    If you will read again carefully, my article above was NOT talking about most juvenile offenders. I was speaking about 1300 cases from the last several decades – a very small number – of aggravated first degree murder cases committed by mostly 17 year olds who had multiple opportunities in their Due Process to make the case for their innocence, or for their lesser culpability. But they were found guilty of horrific murders and sentenced as adults to life (NOT death).

    I strongly support prevention (and work as a volunteer with troubled youth every month to put my money where my mouth is) and a separate juvenile justice system that focuses on rehabilitation, not punishment. The vast majority of juvenile offenders fall into this category.

    But some of the JLWOP cases nationally had already been in the juvenile justice system, several times, some even for murder. And yet they got out and killed again.

    Thank God, these cases are VERY rare. But they are real. They do exist. There are dangerous people out there, even in their teen years.

    And how do you consider yourself an advocate for human rights when you would not take up the offer from victims family members who want to work cooperatively with offender advocates on public policy reforms?

    You are not speaking to the issue, Mr. Osborn. I hope you will take another look.

    Jennifer Bishop Jenkins

    • I agree with Jennifer that crime victims and their families are central to any respectable policy conversation about crime & punishment. However, I respectfully disagree with an underlying premise of Jennifer’s post that is explicit in the James Q. Wilson quote she uses as a preface. There are no “evil people.” There are evil deeds. People, all people, have the capacity for both good and evil. I oppose juvenile LWOP in all cases not because juveniles and their underdeveloped brains necessarily lack criminal culpability. They don’t. But neither do people with IDD, formerly called mental retardation. They have the capacity to form the legally requisite criminal intent. What juveniles lack is a fully formed frontal lobe to put the “brakes” on their impulses. What’s more, having represented people charged with or convicted of capital crimes for more than 25 years, I can say from my experience that even those most hardened clients have the capacity to change, to understand that violence against another person is wrong, and to live in a way that excludes such behavior. This is especially true of those who, while surely meeting the legal standard for requisite culpability for first-degree murder, nevertheless do not have fully formed brains, and who will, over time, become different people. There is no way of knowing when that might be. It might be within 5 years, or 10, or 20, or longer. Hence, parole should never be a guarantee for anyone who has committed an intentional homicide. Neither should it ever be precluded, particularly for juveniles with underdeveloped brains.

  19. Your article lambastes true juvenile justice reform advocates by complaining that we advocate “light” sentences for juveniles charged, prosecuted, sentenced and imprisoned as adults. This is an absolute untruth and a mischaracterization. There is a serious problem in the United States because the judiciary has been forced into a corner by minimum mandatory sentencing laws, which juvenile justice reform advocates oppose. I absolutely agree that a 17 year old gang banger with a long record deserves a long sentence for a crime like murder. That is not the problem, the problem is that a significant portion of these young defendants do not fall into that category.

    Jordan Brown was 11 years of age when he (according to authorities) took the gun his father gave him full and complete access to and shot his father’s pregnant fiance. If he is guilty, which has not been established yet, he certainly will need to be in a secure facility for a long time. However, this little boy is facing life in prison without parole for a single act committed before he was even a teenager.

    Tyler Edmonds was prosecuted as an adult at the age of only 13 and sentenced to life in prison in Mississippi. His prosecution was based on a coerced confession that he had participated in the murder of his adult brother in law with his adult half sister. Tyler served 7 years in prison before his conviction was overturned because of scientifically unfounded forensic evidence presented at trial. He was re-tried and exonerated at the age of 17, after the most formative years of his life were spent in an adult prison. He will be forever traumatized by his experiences in prison as a young boy.

    These are just two examples of MANY situations where children were accused of committing crimes. CHILDREN, who had no prior record, were perfectly capable of reform, yet the courts and justice system readily threw their lives into the trash.

    When juvenile justice reform advocates claim that life without parole is a living death sentence, it is very much justifible. What do you say to the mother of a 12, 13 or 14 year old boy who is imprisoned with adults (even in “young offender prisons” which include many inmates over 21) and who is raped because they are smaller and younger? What do you say to the father of a 15 year old boy who has hung himself in his cell because he is so despondant that he will NEVER get out of prison?

    It is the vengeance seeking people like you who cause these situations to come about. People who are unwilling to consider that a young child, in MANY cases is capable of being rehabilitated. You would rather through away the key on an 11 year old child, than give them even the most remote chance of reform.

    People who advocate sending children to prison until they die, prosecuting children as adults with little oversight or intelligence, allowing children to be housed in dangerous and hopeless cages fall into two catagories. Some are simply ignorant that these laws only apply to 16 and 17 year olds, not realizing that even pre-teens suffer these consequences, that children are routinely assaulted both physically and sexually in prisons throughout the US, that children have a much higher rate of suicide and fail to get adequate education, counselling and medical care in prisons. And then there are those who get there jollies from the vengeful thought of a young boy or girl suffering unimaginable torture because “we need to get tough on crime.” . . . Which begs the question, are just people just stupid, or are they latent sadists.