Children in Prison: Locked-up forever

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the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Children in Prison: Locked-up forever

by
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial

It seems that our child criminals are the worst in the world. Why else would the U.S. be the only country in the United Nations that voted against abolishing life imprisonment (without parole) for children and teens?

It can't be argued that we have the most effective, rehabilitative prison system. If anything, the opposite holds true, especially when compared with progressive European prison systems, which aren't without their flaws and seem to operate in less violent societies.

According to a new report produced by the Equal Justice Initiative (a non-profit group dedicated to helping prisoners denied fair treatment by the system), American prisons are home to 73 inmates locked up for life for crimes they committed when they were 13 or 14. Bump that age limit up three years and we have 2,225 prisoners locked up for the rest of their lives for crimes they committed when they were 17 or younger.

These crimes aren't minor -- and the nature of our violent culture is an entirely different story -- but some of the children confess under duress or, worse yet, are developmentally disabled. They languish in lockdown, without hope.

But are they proof that these children can't be rehabilitated, that they can't benefit from help and that they are beyond redemption?

Worse yet, the report indicates that few of these cases are ever reviewed and that the majority of these children don't have any legal representation.

Article 10 of The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states, in part, "Accused juvenile persons shall be separated from adults and brought as speedily as possible for adjudication," and, "The penitentiary system shall comprise treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be their reformation and social rehabilitation. Juvenile offenders shall be segregated from adults and be accorded treatment appropriate to their age and legal status."

EJI isn't calling for these offenders simply to be released. What they're calling for -- and in the name of all that is civilized, we agree -- is that these cases be reviewed and sentences reconsidered. After all, chances are that children who commit serious crimes have themselves been victims or at the very least, witnesses to similar horrors.

A society that gives up on its youngest has run out of ideas and given up all hope. Reforming our system of dealing with juvenile offenders would prove that we are not such a culture.

© 1996-2007 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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