21 March 2008

Juvenile Life Without Parole Still Exists

Colorado recently abolished its law permitting a life without possibility of parole sentence for juvenile offenders (juveniles are now eligible for parole after several decades in prison). But, the law was not retroactive. About 46 people in Colorado are still serving such sentences, which Governor Ritter, a former Denver prosecutor, is now having a special advisory parole board review the sentences in order to recommend which, if any, deserve a pardon or a commutation of sentence.

• 1 of the 46 is a female.

• 57 percent committed their crimes at age 17.

• 22 percent were 16 when they committed their crimes.

• 17 percent were 15 when they committed their crimes.

• 4 percent (two of the juveniles) were 14 years old.

• 26 percent of those serving life sentences are black.

• 29 percent are white.

• Two-thirds of the convictions were for murder, and one-third were for felony murder, in which the juvenile did not personally kill anyone but played a role in a robbery or other dangerous felony in which an accomplice killed someone.

The figures above suggest that the Governor, even if does not pardon or commute all of the sentences, could grant relief to all those who did not personally commit murder or to those who were below a certain age (perhaps 16 or 17) when the crime was committed, or both.

This may not sound like a lot of cases, but it is three times greater than the number of such sentences in force outside the United States in the rest of the world combined.

In all, 2,225 people are sentenced to die in U.S. prisons for crimes they committed as minors and 73 of them were aged 13 and 14 at the time of the crime, according to the group, which is based in Montgomery, Alabama.

Elsewhere in the world, life sentences with no chance of parole are rare for underage offenders. Human Rights Watch estimates that only 12 people outside the United States face such sentences.

Israel is the main, and perhaps the only other country in the world besides the United States with such a punishment in force.

A proposal being considered in the legislature this year would change a key reason that the juvenile life without parole numbers are so high in Colorado. Colorado's direct file statute gives prosecutors unilateral authority in a great many cases to try children as adults. The proposal being considered would shift that responsibility in most cases to a judge.

Another of the proposals in the legislature this year in Colorado would end life sentences (with or without parole) for felony murder cases involving juveniles (as distinct from cases where the juvenile actually commits the murder).

The United States also had a record high number of juveniles on death row until the U.S. Supreme Court abolished that practice as cruel and unusual under the 8th Amendment in March of 2005. Executions for juvenile crimes are still legally authorized and have taken place since the year 2000 in only a two countries: The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Iran. Pakistan and China have abolished the juvenile death penalty but this national mandate has not been universally observed in these countries.

Only a handful of countries use the death penalty at a higher rate. While 69 countries retain the death penalty and continue to use it, most use it infrequently.

In 2006 91 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan and the USA. Based on public reports available, Amnesty International estimated that at least 1,010 people were executed in China during the year, although these figures are only the tip of the iceberg. Credible sources suggest that between 7,500 to 8,000 people were executed in 2006. The official statistics remain a state secret, making monitoring and analysis problematic.

Iran executed at least 177 people, Pakistan at least 82, and Iraq and Sudan each 65 but the totals may have been higher. Fifty-three people were executed in 12 states in the USA.

Colorado retains the death penalty and has two people on death row but has not recently carried out an execution.

The United States also has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

You know that our country has lost its way, when the Salt Lake Tribune, a leading newspaper in one of the most fervantly Republican state in the nation exclaims from its editorial page (reprinted in the Denver Post today) that:

The U.S. State Department released its annual human rights report card last week, lambasting othern ations for alleged abuses, including torture. . . Who are we to judge? There may have been a time when our nationa had the moral authority to pass judgment on the ations of others. But those days are gone, thanks to immoral measures take in the shadowy "war" on terrorism at the behest of Bush and with a nod from his toady attorneys general.

The editorial notes that Congress failed to override a Bush veto of a bill prohibiting waterboarding of terrorism suspects despite the fact that "as recently as 1983, a Texas sheriff and three of his deupties were jailed for waterboarding a suspect. . . . The practice has tarnished our legacy, sullied our reputation, left a black mark on our record and made our hypocritical human rights report card a global joke."

No comments: