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Ending juvenile life without parole – Support LB 44

All children deserve and need society’s protection to grow into healthy, productive adults. Even children who commit serious crimes are still children. We should respond to youth crime in a thoughtful and effective way that preserves community safety, contributes to Nebraska’s future prosperity, and gives children the protection they need.

Voices for Children in Nebraska supports LB 44 and its committee amendment, which would repeal juvenile life without parole and establish appropriate and fair sentencing for youth; 30 years to life, with mitigating factors and consideration for parole on a regular basis, is consistent with the Supreme Court’s Miller v. Alabama decision and other states’ implementation of its guidelines.

Voices for Children opposes AM 874, which establishes a de-facto life sentence and removes all mitigating factors for a number of reasons:

  1. Children and youth are not little adults: Scientific studies have shown that youth have poorer impulse control, are more susceptible to peer pressure, and are incapable of weighing long-term consequences because their brains are still developing and changing, even into their twenties.[1] Not only does this make them less culpable for their actions than adults, but it means they are uniquely capable of change and rehabilitation.
  2. It is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s past decisions.  Over the past decade our nation’s highest court has consistently ruled (Roper v. SimmonsGraham v. FloridaJ.D.B v. North Carolina, and Miller v. Alabama) that youth are different than adults, less culpable for their actions, and more capable of change, and for these reasons must be treated differently than adults. Graham and Miller further require the circumstances surrounding the crime and a young person’s history be taken into account and a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”[2] AM 874 will only open Nebraska to further litigation.
  3. Harsh sentences for youth are ineffective and expensive. On average, taxpayers spend approximately $2 million to incarcerate a child for life. Costs for aging inmates in particular place a huge burden on state budgets.[3] Conversely, a productive, college-educated adult contributes over $1 million to society.[4] Longer sentences do not act as a deterrent for youth, given their developmental differences.

Our responsibility to protect children requires us to hold them accountable in a way that gives them the opportunity for rehabilitation, redemption, and hope for a second chance at life. We urge you to reject AM 874 and advance LB 44.

 


[1] American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists: “Life without parole for juvenile offenders.” http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/policy_statements/life_without_parole_for_juvenile_offenders.

[3] The Lives of Juvenile Lifers. The Sentencing Project, March 2012.

[4] Philip A. Trostel, “The Fiscal Impacts of College Attainment,” New England Public Policy Center at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Working Paper (2007):20, 22.

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