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Teenagers in California Prisons

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message 1: by Héctor (new)

Héctor The 227 people who have thus far been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in California have one thing in common: when they were considered children under every other law, they faced adult criminal penalties for their actions and were sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison. In California “life without parole” means just that: absolutely no opportunity for release. It is, most accurately, a sentence until death. “When I die, that’s when they’ll send me home,” said Charles T. In the United States at least 2,380 people are serving life without parole for crimes they committed when they were under the age of 18. This practice violates international human rights law, which strictly prohibits the use of life without parole for those who are not yet 18 years old. Actual practice of states shows that the United States is out of step with most of the world. Research has found only seven individuals serving the sentence for a childhood crime outside the United States. Although other countries have laws permitting life without parole, only ten retain the sentence for those under age 18, but nine of these countries have no persons serving life without parole who committed the crime under the age of 18. Only one other country in the world continues to actually use the sentence for those ages 17 and younger. All but a handful of the youth sentenced to life without parole in California are boys; of the at least 227 sentenced between 1990 and mid-2007, only five were girls.
California’s law permits youth as young as 14 to be sentenced to life without parole for certain crimes. Most of the 227 were 16 or 17 years old at the time of the crime: 41 percent were 16 years old, and 55 percent were 17. The remaining four percent were 14 or 15 years old when the crime took place. Billy G. was 17 years old at the time of his crime and had never lived away from home. The only job he had held was at a concession stand at the local county fairgrounds. “I didn’t have any facial hair—I learned how to shave and become a man in prison,” he told us. There are several striking common characteristics among much of those sentenced as youth to life without parole. These characteristics do not fit what might be the typical image of an irredeemable individual, separated from community and family. Perhaps most remarkably, the crime for which these youth receive sentences of life without parole is often their first one. In a national study of juveniles serving life without parole, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch found that in 59 percent of juvenile life without parole cases surveyed, the juvenile was a first-time offender, with no juvenile or adult record. While there is no question that crimes incurring a life without parole sentence are serious, many individuals committing these crimes had no track record of incorrigibility before being sentenced to life with no chance of parole. In nearly three out of four cases Human Rights Watch surveyed in California, youth had strong ties to family and community, a factor that generally weighs heavily in the success of rehabilitation. At the time of the crime, 71 percent of the juveniles were living with one or both parents. Another 11 percent reported that they were living with other relatives. Only a few were living without the family connection or adult direction that one might assume would lead to criminal involvement: 6 percent were homeless at the time of the crime, 4 percent were living with friends, and 1.6 percent were in foster care. For many, family ties remain after incarceration. Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed said they had family visits in prison, and 52 percent of those reported having visits ranging from several times a year to as often as every week. As Raymond M. observed of his fellow youth offenders serving life without parole: “With the support system they have on the outside, they’re the ones who can succeed.” Another factor that does not fit with the stereotype of a young person in prison is that nearly 60 percent had completed grades 10, 11, or 12 before their arrests.

In Teenagers Sentenced to Die in California Prisons by Human Rights Watch

message 2: by Ricki (new)

Ricki | 6 comments Hector,

Since I'm not familiar with this 'life without parole' category I'd be quite interested in knowing what sort of crimes were committed. Do you have any information on this?


message 3: by Héctor (new)

Héctor Ricki, the report says: "Despite popular belief to the contrary, Human Rights Watch found that life without parole is not reserved for children who commit the worst crimes or who show signs of being irredeemable criminals. Forty-five percent of California youth sentenced to life without parole for involvement in a murder did not actually kill the victim. Many were convicted of felony murder, or for aiding and abetting the murder, because they acted as lookouts or were participating in another felony when the murder took place. In nearly 70 percent of cases reported to Human Rights Watch in which the youth was not acting alone at least one codefendant was an adult. Survey responses reveal that in 56 percent of those cases, the adult received a lower sentence than the juvenile."

In California: Repeal Law Jailing Children for Life by Human Rights Watch

message 4: by Ricki (new)

Ricki | 6 comments Thanks for the informatio Hector. Makes it all the worse doesn't it.

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