Hard to Believe

73 U.S. Kids Sentenced to Life Without Parole at 14 or Younger, and All Are Black

Published on Alternet.org, by Liliana Segura, November 11, 2009.

The U.S. is the only country in the world that barbarically sentences juveniles to life without parole. And race is a huge factor. Will the Supreme Court even consider it? This is the second in a two-part series on juvenile life without parole. Read Part One here.

On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases that could have major implications for the way juvenile offenders are treated in our criminal justice system. Sullivan v. Florida and Graham v. Florida both involve men who are serving life without the possibility of parole for crimes they were convicted of as teenagers – crimes in which no one was killed …

… Today, the results are a bit perverse. According to Florida State Law Professor Paolo Annino, “Florida takes the lead in placing the youngest children in the adult prison system.” 

“The most recent Florida data shows, there is 1 inmate who was 10, 4 inmates who were 11, 5 inmates who were 12, and 31 inmates who were 13 years old at the time of their offense.”

Annino and Harper both point to what Harper calls the “unintended consequences” of Florida’s rush to incarcerate juveniles. “In 1983 and 1995, the Florida Legislature did not contemplate that hundreds of children would be sent to adult prison in the last two decades,” Annino wrote earlier this year. But before the Court, Florida Solicitor General Scott D. Makar defended Florida’s large juvenile lifer population, suggesting that the state knew exactly what it was doing. “I believe Florida is very balanced,” he told Scalia during oral arguments in Graham v. Florida.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum agrees. In his brief filed in Graham, McCollum argues that it was Florida’s brand of tough-on-crime legislation that led to falling crime rates in the late 1990s — a claim that law professors Jeffrey Fagan and Franklin E. Zimring call “as phony as last decade’s crime scare.”

“As a member of Congress in the 1990s,” they wrote, “[McCollum] promised the United States a ‘coming storm’ of superpredators as a result of a population surge of kids from fatherless homes.”

This, of course was the claim pushed by John DiIulio, the only difference being that, a decade and a half later, McCollum seems determined to believe it.

The “superpredator” myth — and the racism that breathed life into it — has been a driving force behind the rush to incarcerate youths of color across the country for years. That the human effects would go undiscussed by the Court may come as no surprise given the justices’ routine upholding of other laws that disproportionately affect people and families of color. But in a country with 2.3 million prisoners, leaving race completely out of the decision would not just be willful ignorance; it would amount to what Bryan Stevenson has called an “appalling silence.” (full long 3 pages text).

Link: Justices review life terms for teen offenders, by Pepe Lozano, November 10 2009.

Also in Rights and Liberties:

Women Are Being Killed All Over the World: One Reporter’s Fight Against So-Called Honor Killings, by Robert S. Eshelman, November 10, 2009;

My Kids Want to Hide Their Identity, They’re Scared Someone Will Attack Us: U.S. Muslims Being Targeted, by Jaisal Noor, November 11, 2009;

The Execution of a Potentially Innocent Man Less Scandalous Than an Affair
? by Michelle Goldberg, November 4, 2009;

Ten Things You Can Do to Reduce Incarceration, by Walter Mosley, Rae Gomes, November 3, 2009;

Six Uighurs Released From Gitmo; Seven Remain Locked Up, by Andy Worthington, November 2, 2009.

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