Texas needs alternatives to prison terms for children

In this op-ed written for the Houston Chronicle, Linda White talks about losing her daughter to youth violence and her ultimate realization that kids can be rehabilitated and should not spend the rest of their lives in prison.

By Linda White | June 19, 2013 | Updated: June 19, 2013 7:05pm

My daughter Cathy was killed by two 15-year-old boys more than 26 years ago. I know personally the grief of losing a child to violence.

I am also a retired professor with an interest in death, dying, grief and loss, and an advocate for the elimination of life without parole and other extreme sentences for children.

I believe children are more than the worst thing they have ever done. I also believe that our country is better when we seriously consider our responsibility to ensure that all children – even those who commit serious crimes – have an opportunity to thrive.

I was thrilled a year ago when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Miller v. Alabama, ruled that it is unconstitutional to impose a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole upon someone who was convicted for a crime committed when younger than 18.

Finally, it seemed, our country would reform the ways it holds young people accountable for the crimes they have committed.

Rather than a process based in retribution, I hoped we were moving toward a model focused on ensuring that we rehabilitate our children, then help to reintegrate them into society.

Twelve months later, there have been steps forward, as several states have eliminated life without parole for children from sentencing schemes.

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