High Court Ruling on Juvenile Life Without Parole Could Impact Many

Hundreds of people like Alabama’s Evan Miller are newly-eligible to appear in front of sentencing judges and perhaps parole boards, as the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down certain life sentences without parole that were handed out to juvenile offenders. As a drug-addicted, abused, neglected minor in and out of foster care, 14-year-old Miller and a friend, killed his mother’s drug dealer in 2003 after an evening of sharing drink and drugs. Under a mandatory sentencing law that ignores mitigating factors, Alabama sent Miller to prison for life without the chance of parole. But now minors like Miller must be allowed to present mitigating circumstances and the sentencing judge or jury must pay attention, the court ruled on July 25 in Miller v. Alabama. “Its kind of a new procedure that I think is going to be imposed in some jurisdictions,” said Richard Broughton, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Detroit’s Mercy School of Law.

Justices’ Ruling on Young Killers Eases Anxieties for Some Experts, Advocates

By Eric Ferkenhoff and Maggie Lee

The violence that stains Chicago is a long way from Washington, D.C., where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday it was not just to lock up juvenile killers for life without parole in most cases. The court, reasoning children should not face what amounts to death behind bars, voted 5-4. Monday’s decision had been anticipated since arguments were heard in March on two cases out of Alabama and Arkansas dealing with 14-year-old convicts, and won the applause of children’s and rights advocates and scorn from those who believe punishment should be equal to the crime. “I’m feeling very good, hopeful,” said Julie Anderson, 55, whose son was convicted of murder at 15 in 1995. “We’ll see how it plays out, but my son defintely qualifiies under this ruling to have his sentence looked at again.”

She added: “And there’s so many of them, these people who were only children.

Supreme Court Forbids Mandatory Life Sentences Without Parole for Juveniles

UPDATED Tuesday, 9:23 a.m.: WASHINGTON – Advocates for juvenile justice reform applauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 5-to-4 ruling yesterday that children under 18 could not be handed life imprisonment sentences without hope of release – even if convicted of murder – without taking into account their age and other extenuating circumstances at the time of the crime. “Held: The Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders,” read the majority opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan, which combined the court’s ruling on two cases, Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, sharply disagreeing that such sentences constituted cruel and unusual punishment for what were “heinous” crimes to society. “Put simply, if a 17-year-old is convicted of deliberately murdering an innocent victim, it is not ‘unusual’ for the murderer to receive a mandatory sentence of life without parole,” Roberts wrote. Kagan responded in a footnote to her opinion that she finds it ironic that the dissenters are holding a 14-year-old’s actions to the same standard as a 17-year-old’s, given that the main finding of the majority is that courts must take individual circumstances into account before deciding on a sentence.

Finding the Time to Make Real Change in Juvenile Justice

It is a fundamental principle in effective supervision of juvenile offenders that the optimal caseload size should be 25. It is still common throughout the country to find caseloads exceeding 60 and sometimes more than 100. When I took the bench in 1999, our caseload size was 150 – it was not pretty! Today, it’s 25. The kids who scare us get intensive supervision, the kids who make us mad are referred to a system of care for services.

Citizen Advisers for State Juvenile Justice Programs Gather in DC

WASHINGTON – A mix of around 250 child welfare workers, law enforcement officials, public officials and nonprofit employees from 49 states and territories, many of whom advise their local agencies on preventing juvenile delinquency and improving juvenile justice systems, are convening near Washington, D.C., this weekend to lobby their federal legislators and share best practices at a time of shrinking state budgets. This year’s conference and meeting of the Council of State Advisory Groups, organized by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, will train new state advisory group members on federal requirements under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, tackle common challenges like recruiting enough members under the age of 24 to meet federal quotas, and emphasize how members can use research data about proven outcomes to improve their programs and measure performance. Clema Lewis, co-director of a domestic violence coalition in the Virgin Islands, was among the attendees at a training session for new advisory group members this morning. Although she’s been a part of the advisory group for the last 12 years – and now serves as its chairperson — this was the first such training she had ever attended, she said. Coming to a conference like this helps her keep up to date on the latest research, network with other people with similar challenges, and most importantly, take that information back home to share with her peers, Lewis said.

Good Intentions Running Afoul of Politics

Back in the mid 1990s, we had a brief moment to celebrate progressive reforms in the prison system, a rarity here in Georgia. A high-ranking official in the state’s Department of Corrections, a man named Dr. Allen Ault, spearheaded a drive to address numerous allegations of sexual abuse against women in the DOC. His good work led to the departure of the agency’s commissioner and Ault’s appointment to the job. He ended up running the DOC from 1992 to 1995. And he might still be there today, had he not run afoul of politics.

Suspense Builds in Advance of Supreme Court Ruling on Juvenile Sentencing

WASHINGTON – While most of the nation anxiously awaits a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the federal health care law, juvenile justice reform advocates are on tenterhooks over a ruling expected next week over mandatory sentencing of juveniles to life without parole. At stake is the question of whether it is cruel and unusual punishment to put minors in prison for the rest of their lives without any possibility of release, even if they killed someone or were involved in a murder, without considering their age or circumstances. The court’s ruling will be on two separate but related cases involving two 14-year-old boys sentenced to life without parole under mandatory sentencing laws in their states, Alabama and Arkansas. On two previous occasions, the Supreme Court has affirmed that under the Eighth Amendment, juveniles could not be given death sentences or life sentences without parole for crimes other than murder because to do so would be excessive. Now, it must decide whether it is excessive for states to do so even in the case of murder or manslaughter.

Dreaming of a Better and Legal Future

My husband, Steve, and his first wife, Laurene, moved to Eastern Europe shortly after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. The day before they boarded the plane to move to Bratislava, Slovakia, Steve and Laurene discovered that they were expecting, unexpectedly, twins!  Since Bratislava’s medical care was still behind those of Western Europe and the birth of twins is a higher risk pregnancy, they chose to go to Vienna, Austria for the pregnancy care and birth. Early one morning Laurene’s water broke and they made a harried run across the Danube River for the Slovakia/Austria border. Before long David and Paul made their dramatic debut about a minute apart via C-Section. Steve and Laurene planned on living  there long-term, but a breast cancer diagnosis short-circuited those dreams. At six months of age, the twins were brought to America for the first time.

What the Sandusky Case Has Taught Us: Six Keys to Creating an Effective Child Protection Policy

The Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse case has shone a harsh light on the limitations of the child protection policies put in place by youth-serving organizations. Sandusky, who served for years under Joe Paterno as Penn State’s assistant football coach, is currently on trial, facing 52 counts of sexually abusing young boys. “Based on our 12 years of working with youth-serving organizations, it’s clear that most aren’t doing enough,” said Cindy McElhinney, director of programs for Darkness to Light, a national nonprofit dedicated to preventing child abuse. “And this is evidenced by the stories playing out in the media right now, including the Sandusky case. Some organizations take it very seriously and are doing a great job, but many still act like it won’t happen to them, that the children they serve aren’t vulnerable.”

A state-of-the-art abuse prevention policy is not only critical to protecting the youth you serve, but also your organization from liability, McElhinney said.

A Punishment Beyond the Punishment

This past weekend I made a trip to Kentucky with my girlfriend, and on the way back we travelled through the north Georgia mountains. Not far from our route was Lee Arrendale State Prison, in Alto, Georgia. I was incarcerated there from 1985 to 1989, and it was by far the worst prison I did time in. Today it is very different, housing women instead of male teens, and with only a few of the buildings left that I knew. As I neared the prison my body grew cold and numb, my heart rate and breathing increased, and I seemed to have trouble thinking straight.