Today, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security is scheduled to hold a hearing on a bill that would help end the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without the possibility of parole and provide grants to states to improve the quality of legal representation for youth charged with an offense that could lead to a life sentence. In a letter to Representatives Robert C. Scott (D-VA), chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee, and Louie Gohmert (R-TX), ranking member, the ACLU calls on Congress to move forward with H.R. 4300, the Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act of 2007.
“Confronting the sentencing of children to life without the possibility of parole is one of the most pressing human rights challenges facing our criminal justice system,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This practice is a violation of our Constitution and a stain on our country’s human rights record in the international community.”
Fredrickson continued, “We have treaty obligations and we have constitutional obligations to stop sentencing children to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In the past two years, three international human rights bodies have expressed grave concerns with this U.S. sentencing practice.
The Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act of 2007 would bring the U.S. into compliance with its international treaty obligations and our guiding constitutional principles. We strongly encourage members of Congress to support this legislation.”
The national ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2006 on behalf of 32 juveniles who were tried and convicted as adults. These juveniles received mandatory life sentences for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18 without any consideration to their status as children. The petition urged the commission to rule that sentencing children to mandatory life without the possibility of parole violates the Declaration of the Rights of Man and other universal human rights principles. The petition remains pending before the commission.
Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, noted that Michigan ranks among the top states in the U.S. for putting away the most children under eighteen for life imprisonment with no possibility of parole. According to the ACLU of Michigan report, Second Chances, Michigan has at least 306 inmates serving life sentences for crimes committed before their 18th birthdays. No parole board will review their cases.
Moss said, “Life without parole sentences ignore the very real differences between children and adults, abandoning the concepts of redemption and second chances upon which this country was built."