Thursday, 7 August 2008

Justice USA style: Sentencing juveniles to life without parole.

Living in hell for life

The USA has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prisoners.

One in every 100 adults in the USA is in prison.

The USA has an even more significant record in the numbers of people sentenced to spend the rest of their lives behind bars: Life without parole.

"Paul Wright, the editor of Prison Legal News and author of two books on the prison system--who himself served 17 years of a life sentence--said life without parole sentences are "a death sentence by incarceration. You're trading a slow form of death for a faster one."

"This kind of sentencing is virtually unheard of elsewhere in the world. "Western Europeans regard 10 to 12 years as extremely long term, even for offenders sentenced to life," says James Whitman, author of the book Harsh Justice."

"And among the prisoners with life sentences in the U.S. are 2,380 people who were sentenced to life without parole as "juvenile offenders"--in other words, they were under the age of 18 when the crimes they were accused of were committed--according to Human Rights Watch."

"Of these juvenile offenders, 73 were sentenced to life in prison without parole at the age of 13 or 14 years old, according to research done by the Equal Justice Initiative."

"Antonio Nunez was raised in Los Angles, his life shaped by gang violence. As the Equal Justice Initiative described in its report "Cruel and Unusual," at the age of 14, he got into a car with two older men, one of whom had been kidnapped. A police chase ensued, and gunfire was exchanged. No one was killed; no one was even hurt. But Antonio was sentenced to life in California's San Quentin prison, where he remains today"

California has the mandatory, "three strikes and you're out," sentencing. A third felony offence lands the offender with a 25 year sentence. Since 1994, over 1,000 people have gone to prison for 25 years in California for non-serious crimes.

"Take Santos Reyes. His "crime" was to help his cousin, a Mexican immigrant who was unable to take a drivers' test because he couldn't write English, but needed a license so he could begin working as a roofer with Reyes. For this, Santos was convicted of felony perjury.

Reyes had been convicted of two previous felonies more than a decade before--stealing a radio when he was 17 and a robbery when he was 22. In neither case was anyone harmed. In the years between, he had gotten married, had two children and worked steadily as a roofer. But because the perjury charge was a third felony, he was sentenced to prison under three strikes--where he has spent the last nine years, all for taking a drivers' test for his cousin."

"U.S. policymakers seem determined to march out of step with the rest of the world on the use of harsh prison sentences. In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling on all nations to abolish life without the possibility of parole sentences for youth offenders. The margin was 185 to 1--with the U.S. casting the one and only vote against."

So, the United Nations, by a massive majority, called on all nations to abolish life without parole. Yet, in the USA, juveniles are being sent to prison for the rest of their lives. The USA, with its death sentence gung-ho state of Texas, and its, "three strikes and you're out," state of California sentencing people to 25 years behind bars for non-serious offences, seems to be rather out of step with other developed nations. Even Pakistan has abolished the death penalty. The USA is probably the most powerful and richest country in the world, but in terms of justice it lags way behind most of the civilised world. A country that does not give a 13 year-old the opportunity to change or to be rehabilitated is, in my opinion, in judicial terms, totally uncivilised.

"Everyday that I wake up, it's a pain knowing that I have this sentence, and if these devils get their way, I will have to be here the rest of my days. Knowing this, and being in this situation, just the thought alone will kill you from the inside out. A natural life sentence tells the public that you are a vile and insidious person, and that you possess no rehabilitative potential to reenter society and be a productive citizen. This is a bald-faced lie, and this lie can be brought to an end today."

-- Jamie Jackson, serving a life without parole sentence in Illinois