(FinalCall.com) – Judges are taking kickbacks for imposing harsh sentences on youth. Judges are giving equal time for unequal participation in crime and a cradle to prison pipeline sends more Black and Latino juveniles to prison than to college. Juveniles looking for justice and receiving more injustice, say advocates.
“In America, a Black boy born in 2001 has a one in three chance of going to prison in his lifetime, and a Latino boy a one in six chance, and yet we spend nearly three times as much on every prisoner as we do per public school pupil,” said Children’s Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman, during a recent conference.
“We gathered in California–which houses the largest prison system in the United States, incarcerating more than one of every nine prisoners in America–to share solutions and strategies for rerouting children on a path to healthy adulthoods and reordering our priorities to save taxpayer dollars.”
She added, “We must mount a concerted national effort to dismantle the prison pipeline by eliminating its root causes through implementation of the promising approaches articulated at the summit.”
For two days, Feb. 26-27, more than 500 attendees at National Cradle to Prison Pipeline Summit in Sacramento, Calif., shared promising approaches and developed community action plans to stop the funneling of thousands of children down a pipeline to prison.
“As a nation, we can ensure that all children reach their full potential. We must use our vast knowledge about what works to dismantle the cradle to prison pipeline which hurts so many of our children,” said Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink. “Instead of prison, our children deserve good schools, healthy and safe communities, and opportunities to thrive. We have a blueprint for action. We must act to save our children.”
Equal time for unequal crime
A survey of youth cases demonstrates that U.S. trial courts impose identical and harsh sentences on juvenile murder accomplices, regardless of the circumstances of the homicide or their degree of participation in it.
In a new study, a University of Arkansas law professor argues that this occurs because the U.S. Supreme Court and the Eighth Amendment–the section of the U.S. Constitution that addresses “cruel and unusual punishment”–do not provide direction to lower courts on sentencing juvenile accomplices in murder cases.
“Courts still impose identical sentences on juvenile offenders who have drastically different roles in the crimes for which they were convicted,” said Brian Gallini, an assistant professor of law.
“This is because current Eighth Amendment standards, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, do not provide sentencing courts with the analytical tools necessary to account for stark differences in fact scenarios. In other words, the court’s Eighth Amendment jurisprudence does not resolve a juvenile nonkiller’s constitutional challenge to a life-without-parole sentence.”
For example, according to Mr. Gallini, one juvenile defendant participated in the killing of a shop employee by helping the shooter enter the shop under false pretenses, robbing the shop after the shooter killed the victim and manipulating the crime scene so that it appeared that someone had forcibly entered the shop.
In a different case, a 14-year-old defendant, who had a history of physical and sexual abuse, was forced by her boyfriend to lure a man into their house to rob him. After doing so, the defendant left the room in which the boyfriend stabbed the man to death. In both cases, the defendants received sentences of life without parole.
“The potential prevalence of this phenomenon cannot be underestimated,” Mr. Gallini said. “This can happen with any number of juvenile defendants waived into adult court. These are not exceptions.”
Judges paid, juveniles jailed
The severe sentencing and detention handed down to the youth in Luzerne County, Penn., was once thought to be exceptions until it happened over and over.
On Feb. 27, the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. Federal Court charging former Luzerne County judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan conspired with others in a brazenly corrupt scheme to accept kickbacks in exchange for sentencing juveniles to for-profit juvenile detention centers between 2003-2008.
As the complaint states, “In choosing to treat children as commodities that could be traded for cash, the defendants have placed an indelible stain on the Luzerne County juvenile justice system.”
“Children were caught in a wave of unprecedented lawlessness that often, within moments, tore them away from their families, their schools, their friends and ultimately, their lives–immediately handcuffed, shackled and incarcerated for infractions as minor as shoplifting a $4 jar of nutmeg or taking change from an unlocked car to buy a bag of chips,” said Robert Schwartz, executive director at Juvenile Law Center.
Maurice Muhammad, a judge in Birmingham was shocked when he heard about the judges’ behavior. “It’s a classic case of abuse of power that goes unchecked. We need a better system of checks and balances. Were it not for some vigilant parents and attorneys, we wouldn’t have found out. Things have to change,” he said.