A New York Times Editorial yesterday layed out the record for the United States treatment of juvenile offenders as 'shameful.' The Editorial says: As many as 38 states sentence minors to life without the chance of parole, including Pennsylvania, the worst offender, where hundreds of inmates — estimates range from 360 to 433 — have no hope of ever being released because of crimes they committed between the ages of 13 and 18.
According to Human Rights Watch, 2,380 people in this country are serving life sentences for crimes they committed before they turned 18. That makes the United States an extreme global outlier. Sentencing juveniles to life without parole is at odds with international law; the vast majority of the world’s countries ban the practice.
Lazale Ashby, 23 of Hartford, Connecticut was recently sentenced to death in this small moderate northeastern state for a crime he committed at the age of 18 and 3 days. Four days before he would have been eligible for life in prison. A child's (the Supreme Court said we cannot kill teenagers anymore) brain development makes them less able to resist impulses among other very important factors in young adults. Do we not share some of this blame?
I knew Mr. Ashby when he was a young 14 years old, a client of mine in a therapeutic after school program, in 1998. A troubled young man to say the least, but what do we gain by committing murder? What do we gain by imprisoning all of these children? It is high time we have a policy that reflects what is happening in our society, in our urban communities and to our children.