Another way the US is exceptional: The U.S. Is the Only Country That Routinely Sentences Children to Life in Prison Without Parole
In The Intercept Lisa Armstrong points out another way the US is exceptional:
It was a late summer morning when Robert “Fat Daddy” Taylor woke up, smoked two blunts, and decided to turn himself in. He’d been on the run for four days, and it seemed that everywhere he went in and around the 7 Mile neighborhood on the east side of Detroit, there were photos of him in stores, and people quick to call the police, to claim the $1,000 reward for finding him.
“The streets talk,” Taylor told me recently. “Everybody was telling me, ‘Yo, Fats, man, those boys trying to get you.’ I couldn’t go nowhere. [The police] was everywhere.”
Taylor was not afraid — after all, he was only a person of interest, not a suspect, in a murder that had taken place 15 days earlier, and he knew he had not committed the crime. Still, he was only 16, so he decided to seek the counsel of John McCoy, a 40-something-year-old neighborhood friend. McCoy assured Taylor that the police could not charge him, so Taylor continued walking along East Jefferson Avenue and made his way to the Beaubien police station. He was too young to conceive that this would essentially be his last day of freedom, that this simple act would lead to an arrest, then a life without parole sentence for a crime he insists he did not commit.
“I was 16 years old. I was still a young boy, still a puppy in the hood running reckless,” said Taylor, who is currently incarcerated at the Chippewa Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, Michigan, about 30 miles south of the Canadian border. “But [white people] see a person from the gutter, the ghetto, coming over there and killing one of theirs. There was no way they was ever going to let me go home.”
Taylor’s was a high-profile case. Prosecutors argued that on August 9, 2009, he and his co-defendant, Ihab Masalmani, who was then 17, robbed 21-year-old Matthew Landry after abducting him from an Eastpointe, Michigan, Quiznos restaurant. Masalmani then killed Landry in a burnt-out building in Detroit while, prosecutors said, Taylor stood by. In November 2010 and February 2011, Masalmani and Taylor were first sentenced to mandatory life without parole, a sentence that at the time was legal for minors.
Although these young people have been charged and convicted of heinous crimes, advocates argue that they should not be sentenced to life in prison, because they can be rehabilitated and should not pay such a stiff penalty for crimes committed when they weren’t mature enough to truly understand the ramifications.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, teenagers and young adults often act impulsively, without much consideration for consequences, because in teens “the parts of the brain involved in emotional responses are fully online, or even more active than in adults, while the parts of the brain involved in keeping emotional, impulsive responses in check are still reaching maturity.” The frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls reasoning and decision-making, does not reach full development until around age 25, which is in part why the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Bar Association, and other organizations have issued statements opposing JLWOP sentences, because they do not believe children should be held morally culpable in the same way adults are.
This does not mean, however, that minors should not take responsibility and face consequences for their actions. “This is about review, this isn’t guaranteeing that people will be released,” said Jody Kent Lavy, director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “We’re advocating for periodic reviews to see whether they’ve changed and are prepared to be resentenced or come before a parole board and be released. We know that the vast majority of these young people age out of criminal behavior once they’ve matured and the brain stops developing at around age 25 and believe it is an appropriate time to check in on them and determine whether they can be released and returned to their communities as productive members of society.”
The other issue that plays a part in almost all JLWOP cases is childhood trauma. . .
And read these remembrances of Kalief Browder who was imprisoned at Rikers Island for three years, most of that time in solitary, and was never charged with any crime, simply locked up at age 16.
Add to this the article blogged earlier today, on how police operate in South Carolina, and you can see that the US is indeed exceptional.