Killing Them Softly: The Juvenile Justice System Is Complicit in Lost Lives

Kenneth Young may never see the inside of the U.S. Capitol.

But lawmakers on the Hill are using his story to make a push for more humane sentencing of child offenders. Right now, the United States is the only country in the world that sentences children to life, followed inevitably by death, in prison without parole.

That’s what happened to Young.

In the early summer of 2000, the then-14-year-old accompanied his mother’s 24-year-old crack dealer on a series of nonlethal armed robberies in Tampa. At 15, Young was tried as an adult and sentenced to four consecutive life terms.

More than 2,500 children, disproportionately young men of color, are serving similar life sentences.

But now there is a push by lawmakers on Capitol Hill, backed by scientists and childhood experts, to recognize the fact that children are different. They argue that children’s brains are not fully developed and they do not yet possess the impulse control or judgment skills of adults.

Leading the charge are lawmakers like Rep. Tony Cardenas, a California Democrat and the first person of color to serve his Latino-heavy San Fernando Valley district, who has championed criminal-justice reform.

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By Emily Deruy July 31, 2015