I’m Proof Kids Don’t Need Extreme Sentences to Pay Debt

I work with children who have parents in prison and with parents who are serving time. Much of my work focuses on effective parenting and child abuse prevention. When we reduce the occurrences of child abuse, we also help prevent violence by these same children later in life.

I do this through my job with PB&J Family Services, a New Mexico nonprofit organization. My main responsibility is to manage a home visit parenting program for families with young children. In the evenings and on weekends, I work in a new program that provides children with developmentally appropriate activities and their parents with resources while they are waiting to visit someone who is incarcerated.

I’m passionate about these issues because I grew up behind bars. I entered the juvenile justice system when I was just 13 after I was accused of participating in the murder of another girl my age in my hometown of Clovis, N.M. Despite the difficulties of that experience, I grew from a child, acting out impulsively as a result of my own unresolved trauma, into a responsible, working mother active in my community. I was released at 18 and have never looked back.

As we observe the third anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama, which found it is unconstitutional to impose a mandatory sentence of life without parole for a crime committed by a person younger than 18, it is a good time to think about how we hold accountable children who are accused of serious crimes. This accountability should be age-appropriate and trauma-informed.

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By Francesca Duran-Lopez June 24, 2015