Make room for second chances

Supreme court should prohibit life without parole for juvenile offenders

Lost in the media excitement surrounding the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of Obamacare this week is another important matter the court took up last week, on Tuesday, March 20: whether offenders younger than 18 should be subject to life without the possibility of parole.

In recent years the court has been moving steadily toward viewing juveniles as generally less culpable than adults because, as studies have shown, their brains haven’t matured, they don’t fully understand the consequences of their actions, and they’re highly susceptible to peer pressure.

In 2005 the court ruled that they couldn’t be sentenced to death, and in 2010 it ruled that minors convicted of crimes other than murder could not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Both times it concluded that “it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult.”

The two cases the court considered last week involved boys who were 14 years old when they committed their crimes. One, along with a 16-year-old friend, beat a neighbor, stole $300 from him and set fire to his house, causing him to die of smoke inhalation. The other, with two friends, tried to rob a video store, and a store clerk was shot to death, though not by the 14-year-old.

A compassionate society understands the value of redemption and gives its errant children second chances. We’ve all done things as children—terrible, dangerous things, in many cases—that we deeply regret as adults. Minors who offend should have an opportunity to redeem themselves and gain parole. Sentencing them to a lifetime in prison is cruel and unusual punishment and should be prohibited.