The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY) applauds Congressman Bruce Westerman (R-AR) for championing HR 6011, which would end life-without-parole and de facto life sentences for children in the federal criminal justice system and bring the country in line with most of the world in repudiating these draconian sentences for kids.
The use of extreme sentences on children, like life without the possibility of release or parole, ignores what adolescent development research has documented and every parent knows: Children are not the same as adults. Drawing in part on research demonstrating that children possess less capacity than adults to control their impulses, think through the long-term consequences of their actions, or avoid pressure from peers and adults, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that children should not be subject to our country’s most extreme punishments.
“This legislation does not guarantee release. Instead, it provides the opportunity for a rehabilitated individual whose crime was committed in his or her youth and who has served a minimum of 20 years to have a sentence reviewed by a judge to determine whether a second chance is merited,” Westerman said. “I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for joining with me in this effort to provide the opportunity for a second chance for individuals who strayed from the law during adolescence.”
Congressman Westerman’s bill comes one year after his home state of Arkansas passed legislation banning life-without-parole from being used on children there. That legislation, now titled Act 539, impacted more than 100 people in the state and received broad bi-partisan support in the legislature. In addition to Arkansas, nineteen other states and the District of Columbia prohibit children from being sentenced to die in prison. Over the last five years, the number of states that ban these inhumane sentences has quadrupled, with conservative states like Arkansas, North Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia leading the way.
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has a similar provision to protect children from being condemned to die in prison in the Sentencing Reform and Correction Act (S. 1917). The CFSY worked closely with both Senator Grassley and Congressman Westerman on the legislation.
“We’re grateful that the inhumane practice of sentencing children to die in prison is being addressed at the federal level through the leadership of Congressman Westerman of Arkansas,” says Jody Kent Lavy, executive director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “Arkansas is among a rapidly growing number of states reforming their youth sentencing laws to ensure that all children have the opportunity to demonstrate that they are more than their worst acts and deserve second chances. This bill is a reflection of our belief that there is no such thing as a throwaway child and that no child should be sentenced to die in prison.”
HR 6011 will ensure that children sentenced in the federal system have the opportunity to petition a judge to review their sentence after they have served 20-25 years in prison. Impacted individuals will be afforded counsel at each of their review hearings – a maximum of 3 – where the judge will consider, among other factors, their demonstrated maturity, rehabilitation, and fitness to re-enter society. HR 6011 does not guarantee an individual’s release, but will ensure that children prosecuted and convicted of serious crimes in the federal system are afforded an opportunity to demonstrate whether they are deserving of a second chance.