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Banning Automatic Life Sentences for Juveniles, Retroactive.

The front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC.


The front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
The front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC.

The case that brought this before the Supreme Court was the case of Henry Montgomery, who, when he was 17 years old, killed a police officer in 1963 and was sentenced to death initially, but his sentence was reversed and a new trial ordered January of 1966. In October of the same year, the defendant escaped from prison, and upon rearrest and a new trial in February of 1969, he was found guilty and given life in prison without parole. Back in 2012, the court had ruled such sentencing for juveniles was cruel and unusual punishment and today determined that made it reasonable to apply retroactively.

In a world where, according to Fair Sentencing for Youth, African-American youth make up 17% of the overall youth population, 30% of those arrested and 62% of the youth prosecuted in the adult criminal system, this is good news indeed.

This could be a step in the right direction to stop the what could be termed the “playground to prison pipeline” for children of color. In an article from 2012 The New York Times reported that:

New York Times

We have two separate kinds of “justice” in this country and this sort of unfair treatment at such a tender age often sets children of color on a path from which it is, all too often, nearly impossible to overcome. It is almost as if a child that gets into a playground scrap in kindergarten is placed on the fast track to life in jail because some children are seen as disposable and not worth our investment. This ruling could be life altering for over 2,000 juveniles, who will have a chance at becoming productive members of society, rather than languishing in overcrowded prisons. In turn, it takes some of the burden off of taxpayers, who foot the bill for care of inmates. It can cost from $20,000 to $40,000 a year on average to care for an individual in prison, calculating on the low end, with a life expectancy of 50 years, if a child is imprisoned at the age of 15 without parole (some without the possibility of parole). This new ruling could be saving Americans nearly a million dollars per inmate on average, especially if you include health care increases for aging prisoners.

This decision seems to fall in the category of a win-win, not only toward the goal of putting the breaks on the Prison Industrial Complex, but a win for America overall.

Written by Pamela Getz

Writer and Activist. Follow Pamela on Twitter @goddesspamela.

Pamela Getz is Editor of International Affairs for Progressive Army and a member of its Editorial Board.

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Banning Automatic Life Sentences for Juveniles, Retroactive.