Friday, January 11, 2008

Controversy Over Giving Teen Killers the Possibility of Parole?

Last year, as I described in a previous post, the vote on a United Nations resolution calling for the abolition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for children and young teenagers was nearly unanimously approved. The vote was 185 to 1 with the United States the lone dissenter.

A similar issue is before the U.S. Supreme Court this term in Pittman v. South Carolina, a case which boils down to the question of, as I asked in a previous post, whether "30 Hard Years for a 12-Year Old Killer" is "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Constitution.

As the New York Times said describing Pittman and the issues surrounding it,

"the United States stands alone in the world in convicting young adolescents as adults and sentencing them to live out their lives in prison. According to a new report, there are 73 Americans serving such sentences for crimes they committed at 13 or 14."

Now a State Senator from Nebraska is taking action on the issue. Dwite Pederson's bill would not require that those who were classified under Nebraska law as "children" when they committed murder be given parole, it would simply change Nebraska law to allow for the possibility of parole after either 20 of 25 years. According to the World-Herald article this morning:

In the bill introduced by State Sen. Dwite Pedersen of Omaha, those convicted of murder before their 18th birthdays could be considered for parole after 25 years.

Those convicted of murder before their 16th birthdays could be considered for parole after 20 years.

The article also notes that "Eight states and the District of Columbia prohibit the sentencing of youth offenders to life without parole. Colorado is the most recent to ban the sentence, acting in 2006."

The article describes a young woman, recently convicted of a murder, who would have been, and possibly still could, take advantage of the change in the law. Understandably, the family of the murder victims disagree, saying,

"[The girl, now 18, who was 17 when she committed murder] was proven guilty in a court of law of being involved with the murder of two innocent individuals even though she was a teenager when the crime occurred. If she was old enough to be capable of committing the crime, she is old enough to serve a life sentence without parole. . . . No matter what remorse or rehabilitation she undergoes now or in the future, she is still being allowed to live a life, even if it is not of her choosing. [The murder victims] were not given that opportunity."

You can't really refute the fact that a murder victim doesn't have the opportunity to live, but isn't that really addressing the issue?

The question is, do we want to deprive the parole board of having the possibility to grant parole to a person who was a "child" in Nebraska when they committed their crime? Do we want to deprive the "child," when they grow up and reach their 40's of having the opportunity and the incentive to rehabilitate themselves, to behave themselves in prison, to build a good case for parole when they reach their 40's?

What do you think?

1 comment:

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