Life Imprisonment without Death Sentence
The term juvenile refers to individuals in the society who are below the age of 18 in most countries. This age is called the age of majority. The society generally regards juveniles as people who are immature and cannot make the right decisions without the help of the elder members of the society. In most countries, the age of criminal responsibility is always lower than the majority age. This means that the individuals, even if they are under the age of the majority, can face charges for the crimes they commit. They are considered to have some knowledge of the law, and hence, know what the law expects of them. Parole refers to the release of a prisoner on a provisional basis after agreeing to certain conditions. In criminal law, parole is provided in the justice system as a release of a prisoner before completing the sentence in prison. The prisoners must be supervised by a parole officer after the release to make sure that they fulfill the promises they made in prison. The parolees are still considered to be serving their sentences and can be imprisoned again if they violate their conditions.
Justice System for the Juvenile Offenders
The juvenile court was first established in 1899. It was observed, that even after committing a crime, a child can reform and become a better person in the future as an adult, thus this observation served as a reason to establishing the juvenile court. The legislators adverted that the minors were undergoing harsh treatment during the trials, and hence, established some new criminal and procedural laws accommodating the juveniles. The procedural law provides that every juvenile is tried in the juvenile court. It also gives the juveniles specific protection during the trials (Bessler 2012). The parents or guardians are allowed to be present in the court at all times that the trial is undergoing or during police questioning. It also provides that the names of the minor to be kept confidential for their security. For violent crimes, the minors can be charged in a common law court from as the age of 15 and above. The jury and the magistrate always make decisions regarding the court of trial basing their arguments on the facts that the defense lawyers and the prosecution provide. The law also provides the setting up of special cells for minors other than those of the adults, even if the trials are in adult courts. Some states have set strict laws regarding murder charges. They provide that all murder charges are to be conducted in a common law court. This, however, always faces opposition from civil and children rights activists. All the minors in these court systems must be assessed by a distinct Juvenile Probation Counselors. These make sure that all the provisions are available for the offender.
Sentencing Juvenile Capital Offenders
The juvenile justice system was established aiming to hold the offenders responsible for their acts as well as to provide rehabilitation and other reformatory programs. The main objective of this system is to incorporate the minors who have committed these acts in the future society. With the course of time, the number of crimes increased, so respectively the number of juveniles committing these crimes. This saw the need make criminal law strict to discourage the criminals. Therefore, some counties decided to legalize death sentences and life imprisonment for juveniles. In total, 38 states have legalized the death sentence, 23 of those including juvenile death sentences and life imprisonment. The laws, however, vary from one county to the other. Some people had also been prosecuted for the crimes they had committed when they were minors (Corriero, 2006).
There have also been numerous debates about harsher punishments for capital and violent offenders, without considering their age. Some people have argued that given exceptional treatment for juveniles puts the public at risk of insecurity. Some juvenile offenders also commit capital and violent crimes just before their 18th birthday, raising a question of age as the deciding factor during trials. Several rulings by the Supreme Court have been against death sentence for juveniles, but this continues to raise debates among legislators. The courts have different considerations when passing sentences and analyzing the proportionality. First, there has to be a consideration on the gravity of the offence and the extent of how harsh the penalty would be. The courts also consider the sentences they passed before for other criminals with similar offences. Lastly, they examine the jurisdiction of the courts that passed earlier sentences. This, therefore, means that sentencing youth is a complicated process that involves other processes and, thus, can be considered a proof beyond a reasonable doubt (Pollock, 2012).
Developing the most effective programs for sentencing capital offenders and their rehabilitation is always a challenging process. Determining of how honest the child may be considering the crimes and the desire to reform is always in question. With development of the mind of a child his understanding of human livelihood changes as well. On the other hand, the offender may only be pretending to change with the aim of being set free and avoiding the punishment. The authorities are now even more concerned with the assessing of juvenile capital offenders in prisons with the aim of rehabilitation. Other juvenile offenders face sentences in criminal courts, and thus, harsher punishments than those in juvenile courts (Hood, 2008). The review of juvenile cases takes strong emphasis, since it is always hard to determine the motives of the offender. The people presiding over juvenile cases always try as much as possible to place the child in the hands of a caring adult to try and change the child.
Court Rulings on Sentences of Juvenile Capital Offenders
In June this year, the Supreme Court ruled that there must be limited use of life imprisonments for capital offenders under the age of majority. It ruled that the judges and juries must take into consideration the nature of the crime before ruling without parole. The court also pointed out that it was both cruel and unusual for the states which allowed life sentence without parole and the death sentence for minors. This decision made by the court, however, did not free those who were already serving their terms in prison. The decision came after a lower court had sentenced two boys who were both 14 years of age to life imprisonment without parole. Some of the activists, however, felt that this had come too late, since some people had already been executed for the crimes they committed when they were minors. The court put it clearly that this did not encourage young murderers since it left the decisions to the jury and the judges. The ruling left a provision for life without parole if the jury and the judges see that this would be the only appropriate action. The court, therefore, ruled that sentencing juveniles without parole was against the Eighth Amendment which prohibited cruel and unusual punishments (Klein, 1976). One of the judges, however, added that some murders were obvious, such as a 17 year old committing murder during an armed robbery. He exempted such case and said that such an offender would be denied parole. Therefore, the decision of whether to give or not parole lies on the hands of the judge and the jury who rule the cases. This decision by the Supreme Court abolished the mandatory life imprisonment without parole for juvenile capital offenders without parole.
The ruling raised many debates about the validity of the lack of parole. Some supported the ruling saying that it is the wrong conviction to imprison a minor for life without a chance of ever getting out. Others were against claiming that this would encourage the judges who had conservative views to rule according to their own preferences without considering all other factors. These debates were similar to those that the citizens had raised in the last decade, following several decisions of the Supreme Court on the matter. The same topic has attracted so many people because of the views surrounding it, including policymakers, religion adepts, academics and even the legislators themselves. Several cases are pending in court on the same issue which makes more and more people focus on the issue.
Other than the life imprisonment, the court also came up with a ruling that stopped the possibility of sentencing a minor to death. According to the court, several principles must be applied to determine the equitability of the death penalty. In these principles, the determination of whether one is guilty have to be separate from the other hearings which decide whether the death sentence or life imprisonment is to be adopted (McCord 2001). The court must also take into consideration the mitigating circumstances and the factors that aggravated the offender to commit the crime. The highest court of appeals must also determine the guilt and innocence of the offender and relate the circumstances of the crime to the offender. The sentence must also be under the state law. Under the juvenile justice system, so many arguments would arise in court about the principles and the mental state of the offender who is still a child according to the law. This means that the possibility of a death sentence would be extremely minimal and unusual.
Importance of Parole for Juvenile Capital Offenders
The parole is a program that has proven to be of considerable importance in the rehabilitation process of juvenile offenders. There are also numerous programs set under the parole program that goes a long way in incorporation of minors in the society. A good example of such programs is the Home and School program. The program allows the juvenile capital offenders access to let go of their emotions by role-playing. This program involves the person who committed the act playing as both the offender and the victim. This allows the minors to go through their feelings in a holistic perspective. In addition to this, there are counselors who help the juvenile through the process of reenacting and access the emotions to induce positive change. These programs are available in parole, which helps the offenders realize the effects of their actions to the general society.
In parole, the juvenile offenders also get a chance to merge with the society and involvement in the daily activities. It plays a vital role in showing the perpetrators that they are not rejected in the society, but can have a second chance to reform and lead a normal life. It also gives them a chance to forgive themselves and plan for the future. The reasons why the youth commit crimes are quite different from those of adults. There is also a need to prevent the youth from engaging in the lifestyles of crime (Wilson, 1938). The youth are the most dynamic part of the society and, therefore, can change easily. The parole program, therefore, provides the most suitable platform for youth offenders to change to the better.
Almost half of all the youth who undergo trials in juvenile courts have troubled families. They face such problems as illiteracy, physical abuse, violence in their families and unstable childhood environments. A large percentage also suffers from psychological disturbances. These disturbances range from paranoia and depression to even self mutilation. Some are also indigent while others committed the crimes under the influence of drugs. The above mentioned factors explain why the youth are more prone to committing capital crimes. The minor can overcome these problems with time. All the person requires is close supervision and counseling. Parole programs can go a long way in reforming these people after they have served their terms in prison to ensure that they still come back to the society as changed and able to conduct themselves appropriately. People who have passed through the same rehabilitation processes can encourage these youths in the reforming process to make better citizens (Bergman, 2006).
Parole programs are also aimed at minimizing the risk factors faced by the youth. Such risk factors would be in prison where the child grows without being involved in the life of the society. Such child could develop social vices, for instance, racism. In the long run, the person has big chances to worsen in the prison. If given a chance, the parole officers can maximize the protective factors for a child. This would be done by undergoing a complete mental cycle. The officers can allow the offender to interact with the society in a controlled relationship. The youth will then go through adolescence and has a better chance to lead a crime-free life. This would be quite opposite of the ones in prison who would even have no idea whatsoever about the lives outside the correctional facility.
Cruel and Unusual Punishments
These punishments are found in the Eighth Amendment to the US constitution. The amendment prohibits the government from imposing cruel and unusual punishments to the citizens. These include excess fines and bonds. On the other hand, some cruel and unusual methods of punishment in this amendment include crucifixion, burning at stake and breaking on the wheel. The amendment also states that the physical pain or injury is not the only consideration when judging whether a punishment is cruel and unusual. The death penalty in this amendment is not in itself cruel and unusual. The amendment also clearly states the methods of carrying out the death penalty (DeLisi, 2011). However, death penalty can be cruel and unusual if it is out of proportion to the offence committed and the situation of the offender. Therefore, judging whether the sentence of a minor to life without parole is cruel and unusual can only be done after determining the proportionality of the crime.
Lack of Parole for Juvenile Capital Offenders as “Cruel and Unusual”
It has been observed that the appropriate consequences or charges of sending a juvenile to life imprisonment are uncommon and actually unusual. This fact was admitted by the ACLU national director when the Supreme Court ruled against the sentencing of juvenile offenders to life imprisonment without parole. The Supreme Court pointed out that the juvenile might have committed the crime due to poor upbringing. The juvenile can also commit the crime due to the ignorance of the parents or guardians. In this case, it would be quite cruel to sentence the minor to life imprisonment without parole, as it would be complete denial of his chance to reform and join the society in the future. Every decision made by judges and juries should always be aimed at preserving the rights of all people. The juvenile justice system was set for the benefits of the due process especially for the youth. The lack of parole from these implementers of the law would mean that the youth do not have a chance to return to their life in the society once they commit these crimes. Therefore, making lack of parole opposing the law system, since the law that should give rehabilitation is discouraging the outcomes of the rehabilitation process.
There have been many minors who have been sentenced to life without parole. Some of these were just at the wrong place or time. The decisions they made on who to behave in the circumstances they were in may also be inferior. The brain development of a child goes through different stages, therefore it is natural that the youth can make wrong decisions from time to time. It is also true that young people have to be corrected and guided before they become responsible adults. Therefore, it would be quite cruel to punish adults for crimes they committed while they were still children. By this time, most of them have realized that what they committed was wrong and are ready to reform. Positive results have emerged from the states that have set parole for juvenile capital offenders ( Bedau 2005). It is the responsibility as a society to give children a chance for rehabilitation, and judges should consider this before passing these harsh sentences.
There must be a punishment for every crime committed by a person, without considering the age. However, and every person deserves a second chance for every mistake committed, especially if he is young and has little knowledge and life experience. This means that the juvenile capital offenders deserve the chance to reform and rehabilitate, as long as they have served their prisons terms. This essay undoubtedly proves that parole is more valuable than executing the person or keeping him in prison. Therefore, it would be extremely unusual and cruel to sentence juvenile capital offenders to life without parole, and even be worse for a death sentence. The Eighth Amendment provides the determination of cruel and unusual punishments. Accordingly, it would not be cruel and unusual if the jury and judges determine that the punishment is proportional to the offence committed and the situation of the offender. Thus, the only cruel and unusual punishment would be mandatory life imprisonment without parole for juveniles.