Imagine your son asks you if he can go to his friend’s house to hang out and you, of course, give him permission. Two hours later you receive a phone call from your local police station. They inform you that your thirteen-year-old son had just robbed a video game store and had left the cashier seriously injured by beating him with a baseball bat. Now imagine sitting in a courtroom waiting to hear the judges final verdict. The judge states that your son will be in jail for the rest of his life with no possibility of parole.
This means that the only contact you will have with your son for the remainder of both of your lives will be either on a telephone with thick glass between you two or if you’re lucky, your visitation will just be strictly monitored. However, this is not all you are thinking about. You think to yourself “What about his life?” He will never be able to have kids and a family of his own all due to a crime he committed when he was just thirteen years old. This does not seem fair now, does it? Adolescents should not be sentenced to life sentences without the possibility of parole. It has been proven that children and adolescents brains are not fully developed.
In fact, studies have shown that the human brain is not completely developed until the ages 21-25. In an analysis published by David L. Corrington. Corrington states “This analysis examines scientific evidence that shows juveniles are different from adults in terms of brain development, rational decision-making abilities, and maturity levels”(Corrington par. 3). To prove this statement Corrington presented results from an experiment that proved adults and adolescents use different parts of their brain when making decisions. The results authenticated that adults use their Prefrontal Cortex which is the part of the brain that includes judgment, reason, and planning.
While, adolescents tend to use their Amygdala which is the part of the brain that is linked to emotions and instincts. This difference proves adolescents do not respond to situations with good judgment and do not put logic or long-term consequences into consideration. This makes sentencing adolescents to life without the possibility of parole unjust for the reason that neurologically their actions are not reliable judgments of how they may act in the future considering that the sector of the brain they had used to make their foolish decision primarily included reacting on their emotions.
The Eighth Amendment protects every United States citizen from cruel punishments, excessive fines and unfair verdicts. This even goes for child murderers to an extent considering that the Fourteenth Amendment states that everyone gets equal protection of the laws. However, depending on the intent of the case it could still be considered excessive. This is because there are three separate degrees of murder. First Degree Murder is the most severe type of murder, it involves deliberate planning and premeditation. Whereas, Second Degree murder involves intentionally killing someone without premeditation. And lastly, Third Degree Murder which, also referred to as Felony Murder, involves unintentionally killing someone without premeditation or planning.
For example, there is a case called Jackson v. Hobbs. At age fourteen, Petitioner Kuntrell Jackson was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for felony-murder when his cousin killed a shop attendant during a robbery. Arkansas law made a life-without-parole sentence mandatory, so neither Jackson’s age nor the fact that he was not the triggerman entered into the sentencing consideration(Chang 1).
This sentence is clearly disproportionate to the offense considering Jackson was not the murderer and Jackson is an adolescent. There is an innumerable amount of examples of cases with unfair and unreasonable sentences. An adolescents home life has a major impact on how they make their decisions. It is verified that children who grew up in abusive households have a dramatically higher rate of committing crimes compared to children in stable homes.
For example, “In 1985 a study by the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services found that children growing up in violent homes had a six times greater likelihood of attempting suicide, 74% greater chance of committing crime against a person and were 24 times as likely to have committed rape(“Know the Facts on Domestic Violence” par. 23). Although this variable should be put into consideration, judges seem to neglect this aspect when deciding on a verdict. For example, “Mandatory life sentencing for youths fails to consider the immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences of some juveniles, as well as the potentially brutal or dysfunctional home lives of some juvenile delinquents(“Sentencing Juveniles to Life Without Parole Follow-up: Supreme Court Curbs Juvenile Life-Without-Parole Terms; Strikes Down Mandatory Sentencing” par. 6). This proves Justice Elena Kagan’s point on how the court systems do not make equitable verdicts based on the information presented to them and also how they show no consideration of the aspects associated with the case. Studies show that rehabilitation yields significantly higher success rates than excessive punishments. This is obvious because these children require therapeutic help instead of being confined to a cell for the rest of their lives.
Another example is, “By denying the defendant the right to reenter the community, the state makes an irrevocable judgment about that person’s value and place in society(“Sentencing Juveniles to Life Without Parole Follow-up: Supreme Court Curbs Juvenile Life-Without-Parole Terms; Strikes Down Mandatory Sentencing” par. 4). Refusing to give these juveniles a second chance in the future is expressing poor judgment of the child’s character. Just as holding them accountable to the extent of no parole is unjust considering the fact that in some cases these children had come from unstable households. Therefore, these children’s decisions are robustly altered even more due to the atmosphere they had been raised in and not giving them a chance in the future to prove themselves as rehabilitated and law-abiding citizens is immoral. It is clear that sentencing these children to life without the possibility of parole is unjust. Supporters of sentencing adolescents to life without parole claim “Juveniles convicted of horrible crimes- typically murder- should be sentenced to life without parole. They are too dangerous to allow to live among law-abiding citizens(“Sentencing Juveniles to Life Without Parole: Should judges sentence the worst juvenile offenders to life in prison without parole?” par.
1). Although juvenile offenders should be punished, their age should be vital while deciding on a verdict. These kids deserve to be able to prove themselves as upstanding citizens in their future. It is also a fact that adolescents do not rationalize decisions and consequences as well as adults do due to their underdeveloped minds. This further proves that never giving these young children a second chance in the future is unjust and immoral. In summation, It is clear that there are many factors that go on to prove why it is not only unjust but also unconstitutional to sentence adolescents to life without parole. This debate explained why it is immoral for children to be tried as adults and end up with no hope of a second chance. This is proved throughout the debate by showing the differences in brain activity between adults and adolescents, showing how life sentences without parole for young teens and children is an excessive charge and lastly showing how poverty and home life affects children’s decisions.