I grew up in prison.
In 1994, I was sentenced to juvenile life without parole for a crime I did not commit. Had my life not changed last year, I would have died there.
I lived for 18 years with people who committed serious crimes as kids. I lived with them when Bill Clinton gave his first State of the Union address. When DVDs came out. When the planes hit the Twin Towers. When Barack Obama was elected.
In 1994, there were kids serving life without parole that I thought deserved it. They were convicted of murders and showed no remorse. Why shouldn’t they die in prison?
But then, like kids do, they changed.
That’s why I was thrilled to see that the Supreme Court this week recognized yet again that kids are different when it ruled in Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama that it’s cruel and unusual punishment to impose an automatic sentence of life without parole on a child. Now a judge or jury can look at the kids they’re sentencing rather than disregarding any factors that might have led them to commit a serious crime. It means we’re one step closer to no longer being the only country in the world that sentences children to die in prison.
Jason Baldwin, one of three men known as the West Memphis 3, was sentenced to juvenile life without parole in 1994 for a crime he did not commit. He was incarcerated alongside Kuntrell Jackson, the petitioner in Jackson v. Hobbs. Since his release in August 2011, Jason has traveled across the country raising awareness about extreme sentencing for youth.
- Does Miller also render presumptive juve LWOP sentencing unconstitutional? (sentencing.typepad.com)
- American Criminal Punishment: Self-Defeating, Discriminatory, Inhumane (andrewhammel.typepad.com)