PHILADELPHIA - October 13 - With the Supreme Court now poised to decide if the death penalty for minors constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, will Pennsylvania and Delaware finally take a look at their own laws? Although Pennsylvania has not put a juvenile to death since 1916, both states still allow kids under age 18 to face execution.
Two people convicted as juveniles currently sit on Pennsylvanias death row.
Now is the time for Pennsylvania to clean its own house, states Tonya McClary, national criminal justice representative with the American Friends Service Committee, the Philadelphia-based organization that is one of the amicus brief filers in the case now before the Supreme Court. The Court begins hearing oral arguments examining the constitutionality of executing minors today.
This is a critical case in the fight against sending children up for execution, says Tonya McClary. We hope that the Supreme Court sets the stage, and expect Delaware and Pennsylvania to act immediately to revise their own statues. They should follow the lead of most states in the country and recognize that subjecting children to the ultimate punishment is morally reprehensible.
The amicus brief was filed by 29 religious groups, including Muslim, Christian and Jewish faith traditions. Delaware and Pennsylvania are among 19 states that allow for the execution of individuals who were as young as 16 at the time of the crime. The minimum age for the death penalty in New Jersey is 18.
McClary goes on to emphasize that juveniles, by definition are not adults and should not be treated as such.
Evidence suggests that children, especially, can be rehabilitated, McClary stresses. We dont allow youth under 18 to vote, to drink or to make medical decisions for themselves because of their immaturity. People change biologically and emotionally when they reach adulthood. Youths, properly nurtured and supported, are capable of the highest achievements and profound change.
International law prohibits the use of the death penalty for crimes committed by people younger than 18, yet some countries continue to execute child offenders or sentence them to death. The U.S. leads the world in executing juvenile offenders and is one in only five countries China, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran and Pakistan engaging in this practice. Furthermore, in the past five years the U.S. has executed 13 juvenile offenders, 8 of them in Texas alone more than the rest of the world combined.
The AFSC Criminal Justice program works with groups nationwide to eliminate the use of prisons, jails, and executions as a solution to crime and violence. In keeping with Quaker beliefs, the AFSC maintains that every person has value in the eyes of God and that human life is sacred. Therefore, taking the life of another human being is never justified.
The Service Committee challenges the morality and effectiveness of the get-tough-on-crime mentality. AFSC is an integral part of the Religious Organizing Against the Death Penalty Project, which seeks to build a powerful coalition of faith-based activists and works nationally with official religious bodies to develop strategies and to promote anti-death penalty activism within each faith tradition.