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PA Green Party Endorses House Bill 1994 to Outlaw Juvenile Life Sentences without Parole

Eight other states already ban juvenile life sentences without parole

Pennsylvania has highest number of juveniles serving life sentences without parole in nation

Last night, the Steering Committee of the Green Party of Pennsylvania votes to endorse PA House Bill 1994 to outlaw juvenile life sentences without parole. This comes as a follow-up to its earlier call for an investigation into the privatization of juvenile detention facilities (http://www.gpofpa.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=209 ). Eight other States have already prohibited the sentencing of minors without parole, including Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Mexico, New York and West Virginia in addition to the District of Columbia. With House Bill 1994, Pennsylvania could add its proud name to this growing list.

The Supreme Court is currently deliberating over two juvenile cases, both of which have minors serving life sentences without parole. Terrance Graham was 16 when he robbed a restaurant, for which he served time in prison; in 2004 when he was 17 he was sentenced to life without parole for the violation of his parole terms by committing armed robbery. Defense Counsel argued that the sentencing delivered was cruel and unusual, and amounted to, in reality a death sentence. Unfortunately it is likely that the court’s decision will not make a federal precedent and as such it is imperative that others join the Pennsylvania Green Party in supporting Bill 1994.

By sentencing a child to life without parole, the State is effectively confirming that they are beyond rehabilitation, even when the medical field has argued that juvenile brains are not properly formed until adulthood. Sandy Hazley, member of the Green Party of Alleghney County, argues that this issue is all the more important, considering the over representation of minorities among juvenile lifers,

This country must add more than mere words to their commitment of delivering justice for all, regardless of gender, race and class, as it is no coincidence which sectors of society garner the greatest opportunities in life.

The Bill, introduced by six senators including Sen. Costa (D-Allegheny), will offer the opportunity of parole after the minor has served ten years. In those extremely tragic cases when a life has been taken, it is important to note that there is no guarantee of release if the minor does not show that he or she has been rehabilitated at each parole hearing. However, by prohibiting the currently misused sentencing powers of juveniles, we can show faith in a child’s ability to accept responsibility for their crime, acknowledge and sometimes restore parity to the victim. Restorative justice has proven that this type of approach allows for a more successful rehabilitation.

Pennsylvania is in desperate need of a united solution to problems of juvenile crime, with 444 juveniles serving life sentences without parole, reported in May 2008, more than any other State. The current Bill was submitted at nearly an identical time as a rival piece of proposed legislation, House Bill 1999. Although HB1999 would also prohibit life without parole for juveniles, it would not consider parole, regardless of the minor’s age when the crime was committed, until they reach 31 years of age. For a child sentenced aged 15, a sixteen year minimum sentences is simply too long.

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