Life Sentence for Juveniles? (Letter to the editor)

To the Editor:

Re “Justices Agree to Take Up Life-Without-Parole Sentences for Young Offenders” (news article, May 5):

There are currently almost 2,500 people serving sentences of life without parole for crimes committed before age 18. Fifty-nine percent received their sentences for their first-ever criminal conviction. Sixteen percent were between 13 and 15 when they committed their crimes, and 26 percent were sentenced under a felony murder charge where their offenses did not involve carrying a weapon or pulling a trigger.

Our society recognizes that juveniles differ from adults in their thinking, reasoning and decision-making capacities. Research also demonstrates that adolescents actually use their brains in fundamentally different ways from adults. As a result, they are more likely to act on impulse, without fully considering the consequences of their actions.

This fall, the Supreme Court will decide if juvenile offenders should be eligible for life without parole. One hopes they will concur with the growing public sentiment that it’s time to stop sentencing young people to die in jail.

David Fassler
Burlington, Vt., May 5, 2009

The writer is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont.

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