10 Reasons Why Juveniles Should
Not Be Tried or Sentenced as Adults
        by Barbe Stamps with special assistance from David Berger
This page and all it's contents Copyrighted 2001-2007 by Teen Advocates USA and Barbe Stamps.  All Rights Reserved.
1. It is wrong to hold children and adolescents who have not reached legal age to adult standards.  In other areas of law we recognize the differences between children and adults.  Children are not permitted the same rights and responsibilities as adults (e.g. voting, smoking, joining the military) because we recognize their inability to make adult decisions. Why don't we recognize the same difference in the criminal law?  We don't say, "this is a very important election, so let's let the kids vote".  We don't say, "this is a very important war so let's give our children weapons  and send them to fight".  So why do we say "this case is different and this kid deserves to be treated as an adult and locked away in a prison"? 

2.  Recent research demonstrates that transferring children from juvenile court to adult court does not decrease recidivism, and in fact actually increases crime. Children are uniquely positioned for reform and redemption.  Juvenile detention facilities (generally) have the programs in place to aid in that process of reformation.  Prisons do not.

3.  With appropriate treatment most children who commit crimes, even the most violent crimes, can be rehabilitated and become responsible adults.  Precisely because their brains are still changing.  The prefrontal cortex - which regulates aggression, long range planning, mental flexibility, abstract thinking, and perhaps moral judgment (See Bower Study) has not yet developed in children.  The amygdala, the center of impulsive and aggressive behavior is the center piece of the child brain and is left unchecked by the under developed prefrontal cortex.  

4.  Psychological research confirms what every parent knows: children, including teenagers, act more irrationally and immaturely than adults.  Studies further confirm that stressful situations only heighten the risk that emotion, rather than rational thought, will guide the choices children make.  The Supreme Court recognized just this!  In Roper v. Simmons, Justice Kennedy wrote:  "any parent knows" and "scientific and sociological studies ... tend to confirm "that children possess a "lack of maturity" .. an underdeveloped sense of responsibility .. [and take] impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions."

5.  Children in adult prisons are 5 times as likely to be sexually assaulted, twice as likely to be beaten by staff, 50 percent more likely to be attacked with a weapon and 8 times as likely to commit suicide as children in juvenile facilities.

6.  Punishment is a failed a strategy for changing behavior, teaching new skills, or developing new and more positive attitudes and beliefs. The only justification for inflicting harsh punishment is to deliver vengeance in accord with the old testament standard of an eye-for-an-eye. We should be protecting, not taking out vengeance, on our children.

7.  Contrary to popular belief, it is the child and not his or her parent or guardian who must decide what to tell the police and defense attorneys, whether or not to follow attorney instructions, whether to testify, whether to give information to the prosecution, and whether to go to trial or accept a plea bargain.  Although common sense would suggest that many children are simply too young to undertake such weighty legal responsibilities, it is rare for courts to consider whether children lack the competence to stand trial because of their age.  Every child offender should have a competency hearing before trial. 

8.  “Adult time for adult crime” may be a catchy phrase but it reflects a poor understanding of criminal justice principles. If the punishment is to fit the crime, both the nature of the offense and the culpability or moral responsibility of the offender must be taken into account. As the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized, the blameworthiness of children cannot be equated with that of adults, even when they commit the same crime.

9.  Youth tried in the adult criminal court face the same penalties as adults including life without parole which for child offenders puts them last in line to receive any classes or rehabilitation programs and makes it very difficult to file for clemency for failure to prove any sort of rehabilitation.

10.  Statistics show a plethora of impact issues have been fueled by blended sentencing laws, including unintended consequences such as giving prosecutors, rather than judges, the authority to decide when to charge a juvenile as an adult. Policy analysts have begun questioning whether states have gone too far in enacting legislation that makes it easier to prosecute juveniles as adults.


"Eighteen is the dividing line that society has generally drawn, the point at which it is thought reasonable to assume that persons have an ability to make, and a duty to bear responsibility for their judgments. Insofar as age 18 is a necessarily arbitrary social choice as a point at which to acknowledge a person’s maturity and responsibility, given the different developmental rates of individuals, it is in fact a conservative estimate of the dividing line between adolescence and adulthood."

In re Stanford, 537 U.S. 968, 970-71 (2002) (Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsberg, and Breyer, dissenting) (quoting Stanford v. Kentucky,492 U.S. 361, 394-96 (1989) (Brennan, J., dissenting).
“Children who commit serious crimes still have the
ability to change their lives for the better.  It is now
time for state and federal officials to take positive steps by enacting policies that seek to redeem children, instead  of throwing them in prison for the rest of their lives.”
                                              David Berger
               Attorney and Amnesty International’s researcher for the report
    The Rest of Their Lives:  Live Without Parole for Child Offenders in the U.S.

  Abuse at  Mississippi Training Schools
Oakley (For Boys) and Columbia (For Girls)
Operated under the direction of the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS)

Suicidal girls were sometimes stripped naked and put in isolation in a poorly ventilated dark room with only a hole in the floor for a toilet.
Time Line

July 19, 2006
$10M suit alleges rape at training school
Teenage girl says male employee assaulted her
A federal lawsuit seeking $10 million in damages alleges a male employee of Columbia Training School sexually assaulted a then 14-year-old female student multiple times last August.

Click Here to Read Article

Excerpts from CRIP Investigation
Complete Report
Although it is clear rehabilitation programs proven to be safe and effective for juvenile offenders are needed, the recent death
of Dillon Peak, 14 at a wilderness and residential program for court-ordered committed delinquent youth in Florida shines a spotlight on the need to more efficiently monitor the conditions, policies and procedures of these programs to ensure they
meet the highest standards of safety.

In Dillon's case, it appears there is evidence to support allegations raised by his family that Dillon died because he did not receive adequate medical care following an illness (strep throat) he contracted shortly before he was due to be released from Peace River Outward Bound, a 35 bed facilty for low-risk offenders located in Arcadia, Florida. 

An autopsy has been conducted but no conclusions about the official cause of death has been reached by the Coroner who is awaiting test results.  However Dillon's family doctors have theorized he may have sustained a rare form of encephalitis on top
of the strep throat. 

While both the inspector general of the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Pinellas County Medical Examiner's Office have opened investigations into the boy's death and a spokesperson for the Department of Juvenile Justice has stated that if the
investigation recommends it, they may require contractors to "beef up" the medical services they provide in the future - serious
questions remain about Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice and their role as the ultimate provider and manager of services for youthful offenders.  The tragic death of Dillon Peak happened on their watch and could have happened just as easily at any
other juvenile detention facility in the state where safety policies and procedures are inneffective, insufficient or not enforced.

Breaking News:  10-21-2006  Mystery Virus Killed Boy
Florida Department of Juvenile Justice
Outward Bound Discovery

By Barbe Stamps


A Four Part Series

Day one: Colorado prosecutors have used an unusual combination of laws to put 45 teens in prison for life with no hope of early release.

Day two: Teens are far more likely than adults to be prosecuted and put away for felony murder,
a crime that doesn't require them to willfully participate in a homicide.

Day three: Among those now serving life without parole are teens who killed a parent. In some cases, jurors never heard their stories of abuse.

Day four: Over time, Colorado legislators have consistently moved the state toward a system
that punishes teen criminals and devotes fewer resources to rehabilitation.

"This (Jacob Ind) was a real sad case,"  I would have changed the sentencing.
But I had no choice."
- Judge Jane Looney
Petition to the Colorado Governor and Clemency Board Requesting Clemency
                  for Jacob Ind.  Sponsored by the Pendulum Foundation
By Mary Ellen Johnson
The Pendulum Foundation
A Colorado Based Juvenile Justice Advocacy Group
                     Additional References and Resources

Decision-making is Still a Work in Progress for Teenagers
July 2000  by Gargi Talukder

U,S, Supreme Court Roper v. Simmons
Case Summary
Resources related to the case
Related Supreme Court opinions
Resources related to juveniles

MacArthur Juvenile Competence Study
The MacArthur Competence Assessment Tool-Criminal Adjudication (MacCAT-CA) and the MacArthur Judgment Evaluation (MacJEN) to compare the competence of young adults (ages 18-24) and adolescents (ages 11-17) to stand trial.
Summary of Results
Methods and Tables

             The Rest of Their Lives
           Life without Parole for Child Offenders
A Joint Report by Amnesty International & Human Rights Watch

I’m a former cop. I’m a true believer in law
and order.  But my son was a child when this
happened. He wasn’t thinking like an adult,
and he wasn’t an adult  . . . how is it that the
law can treat him as if he is one?

Jacob Ind
A teenager serves life in prison because authorities found his fingerprints at the scene of a murder. But jurors doubted he killed the victim, and police failed to fully investigate other key suspects.

"I'm just a ghost now," writes Sam Mandez, who was 14 at the time of the crime in 1992 and had no previous violent offenses. "I'm the living dead."

Another teen faces life behind bars for killing his mother. Jurors didn't hear his story of parental abuse because his attorney never investigated.

Testimony in the trial of 16-year-old Nathan Ybanez lasted only a day.

A third teen with a history of alcohol problems is serving a life sentence for a fatal hit-and-run incident after a day of heavy drinking. Prosecutors cast the circumstances as a gang killing - a theory even the victim's mother discounted.

At 17, Dietrick Mitchell became a "throwaway" into the prison system.

All three youths were prosecuted in adult criminal court during the past two decades as part of Colorado's crackdown on juvenile crime. All three were swept into prison under questionable circumstances by a combination of tough sentencing laws and Colorado district attorneys who wield some of the broadest powers in the country to prosecute juveniles.

Colorado is among 14 states where prosecutors can charge juveniles with adult crimes that could lead to life in prison with no chance of parole. With 45 people now locked away forever for crimes committed when they were younger than 18, Colorado ranks 11th in the nation for the rate at which life sentences are imposed on juveniles.

The process that put them away has struck a nerve with judges, jurors, lawyers and legislators who believe the adult system has mishandled some juveniles' cases.

"I want to be tough on crime," says state Rep. Lynn Hefley, R-Colorado Springs, who has unsuccessfully fought for reforms and wants to give juveniles serving life a shot at parole. "But I also want us to be smart on crime and use our heads. Some of these kids don't deserve life (without parole)."

During the past three decades, Colorado has eroded long-standing legal protections for juveniles and cut treatment options while adopting harsher penalties.

The trend unfolded amid frustrations - aggravated by some shocking, high-profile cases in the 1980s - that the juvenile system failed to adequately balance punishment and public safety with its role of rehabilitation.

More recently, sentences that put juveniles in adult prisons with no chance for release have provoked cries for reform. But little public attention has focused on the convergence of circumstances that can put young offenders away for life.

A Denver Post investigation has found:  Colorado prosecutors filed 1,244 cases that resulted in juvenile convictions in adult courts since 1998, according to an analysis of state court administrator data. The actual number of juveniles convicted and sentenced to prison or other sanctions can't be determined from the data.

Forty-four cases involved offenders who were 14 - the earliest they can be directly charged as adults - at the time of their crimes. Of 1,625 total charges, about one-third involved robbery or assault; less than 3 percent involved homicide.

Flawed investigations and questionable defense work have compounded legal problems for teens in life-without-parole cases. In the Ybanez case, the teen's attorney never seized on evidence that his client was abused. In the Mandez case, authorities decided to revive a murder investigation to seek additional suspects in response to questions from The Post.

Felony murder charges are applied disproportionately to Colorado youths. Among juveniles sentenced to life since 1998, 60 percent went to prison on felony murder convictions, compared with 24 percent of adult 
Rosella Mandez holds a photo of her son Sam when he was 14. Sam Mandez was also 14 when Frida Winter, 78, was found slain at her Greeley home in 1992. After investigators lifted Mandez s fingerprints from Winter s broken basement window, jurors found him guilty of burglary, which triggered a felony murder charge and a sentence of life without parole. He says he was in Winter s home only once - when he helped his grandfather with a paint job when he was 13.

A growing body of research indicates teens often are confused by the court system and perhaps not competent to stand trial in adult court. But Colorado law provides no guarantees that a guardian ad litem or parent will be present during police interrogations and other steps in the adult justice system. In at least six cases reviewed, an adult advocate was not present during a key phase in the legal process.

A push for punishment

Public furor erupted over rising juvenile crime in the late 1980s and the 1990s when the number of juveniles arrested in violent crimes rose from 947 in 1982 to more than 1,800 by the time of the so-called Summer of Violence in 1993.

Continue Reading Series Here

T E E N  C R I M E   I   A D U L T   T I M E
The Failure of Trying & Sentencing
     Youth  in Adult Criminal Court
Watch the public defender's closing argument which raises troubing questions about the reliability of the state's evidence including DNA samples so insufficient they could not be submitted to the FBI's CODIS program for comparison, forensic evidence collected from the crime scene and elsewhere that was never tested and a time of death that relied upon the opinion of a computer
forensics expert instead of medical science. 
People  v. Scott Edgar Dyleski, 16

Online Since 1999
On Tuesday, September 26, 2006 Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga sentenced Scott Dyleski to the maximum penalty allowed under California law - LIFE
IN PRISON WITH NO POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE. This means that in spite of having no prior criminal record nor
any history of violent behavior at home, school or the community, this now 17 year old boy will spend the next 60-70 years locked away in a hard-core penal institution until he either dies from natural causes, takes his own
life or is killed by another inmate. Why?  Throwing children in prison for the rest of their lives isn't justice.  It's cruel and unusual punishment.  Proof positive that
we - as a society -  have lost our moral compass and become a nation where under cover of law  children
can be sentenced to die in prison.  - OP/ED Barbe Stamps

  J U V E N I L E   I N J U S T I C E
Conditions of Confinement in New York’s Juvenile Prisons for Girls

There is growing recognition that people incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons often suffer from abusive treatment and neglect. When those abused are children who have been placed in juvenile facilities ostensibly for their rehabilitation, public concern is justifiably heightened. Media stories and public debate about troubled children tend to focus on the delinquent behaviors of and state responses to boys. However, an increasing proportion of the children being put behind bars are girls. In New York State, the proportion of girls taken into custody has grown from 14 percent in 1994 to over 18 percent in 2004.

This report focuses on the two large, prison-like facilities in which girls in New York state are confined, namely, the Tryon and Lansing facilities, and concludes that, far too often, girls experience abusive physical restraints and other forms of abuse and neglect, and are denied the mental health, educational, and other rehabilitative services they need. Because of the facilities’ remote locations, confined girls are isolated from their families and communities.

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) is the state agency whose Department of Rehabilitative Services administers juvenile facilities. Although OCFS is charged with rehabilitating children over whom it takes custody, it often fails to serve, and even to protect, confined girls, and this failure continues because there is little or no meaningful oversight of conditions in OCFS facilities. This last point is critical. Internal monitoring and oversight of the facility are, to put it charitably, dysfunctional, and independent outside monitoring is all but nonexistent. As a result, the conditions in the Tryon and Lansing facilities addressed in this report are shrouded in secrecy and girls who suffer abuse have little meaningful redress.

Human Rights Watch investigates conditions in juvenile facilities in the United States and around the world and we have found OCFS to be among the most hostile juvenile justice agencies we have ever encountered. Despite repeated formal and informal requests over a period of several months, we were denied access to the facilities themselves. Working through channels independent of OCFS, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU (HRW/ACLU) made contact with children, family members, and others with relevant firsthand experiences and knowledge. Ultimately we were able to speak with only 30 formerly incarcerated girls directly, but what we found, as detailed below, is serious cause for concern: the state of New York is failing to watch over OCFS, and OCFS is failing the girls in its custody.

The majority of girls in Tryon and Lansing are fifteen or sixteen years old, although some are as young as twelve. As with incarcerated persons throughout the U.S., a disproportionate number of girls confined in New York are African-Americans from families who have lived in poverty for generations, with parents or other close relatives who themselves have been incarcerated. In many cases, these girls fall into juvenile facilities through vast holes in the social safety net, after child welfare institutions and schools have failed them. In the wake of legal reform in 1996, girls who commit “status offenses” such as disobedience and running away from home are no longer supposed to be placed in custody, but such offenses—and the related issue of involvement with child welfare agencies because of parental abuse and neglect—continue to function as gateways through which particularly vulnerable children are drawn into the juvenile justice system.

Of course, the immediate cause of a girl’s incarceration in the Lansing or Tryon facilities is her commission of a delinquent act, that is, an act that would be a criminal offense if committed by an adult. Such acts include assault, occurring in many cases during family or peer altercations, theft offenses including shoplifting, and other crimes. A judge ordering a girl to be placed in a specific type of facility signals his or her expectation that the girl will be confined at a particular level of security and provided with appropriate, specified services. Unfortunately, conditions in the facilities often are markedly different from what many judges envision. In reality, all girls sent to Tryon or Lansing are confined in a prison-like physical environment where they may be at risk of abuse and where promised services are often not delivered.

One of the most troubling abuses is the use of inappropriate and excessive force by facilities staff against girls. By interviewing formerly incarcerated girls and examining agency documents, HRW/ACLU have documented the excessive use of a forcible face-down “restraint” procedure intended for emergencies but in fact used far more often. In a restraint, staff seize a girl from behind and, in a face-down posture, push her head and entire body to the floor. They then pull her arms up behind her and hold or handcuff them. We found that the procedure is used against girls as young as 12 and that it frequently results in facial abrasions and other injuries, and even broken limbs.

According to human rights standards, physical force may be used against confined children only as an emergency measure to control a violent or self-destructive child and only when all other means of control have failed. Physical force is never acceptable as punishment, yet that is exactly how force sometimes appears to be used at Lansing and Tryon. Many girls told HRW/ACLU that the face-down restraint procedure at times was used punitively for minor of failings by girls, including, in the most egregious cases, improperly making their beds or not raising their hands before speaking.

Girls confined in Tryon and Lansing are also at risk of a range of sexually abusive behaviors. HRW/ACLU documented three specific cases over the past five years of staff having sexual intercourse with girls. Sexual abuse short of intercourse also occurs in the facilities, ranging from verbal innuendo, to observation of girls in states of undress by male staff, to unwanted touching. Girls also report that staff make publicly humiliating comments revealing girls’ past sexual history, or experience of abuse, or a medical condition such as infection with a sexually transmitted disease. Lesbians as well as girls who do not conform to staff stereotypes of girlish behavior are sometimes harassed by staff and other girls.

Girls incarcerated at the Tryon and Lansing facilities are also subjected to security measures beyond what appears to be strictly necessary and in some cases contrary to OCFS’s own official categorizations. The facilities examined in this report are designated by OCFS as “secure” (one part of Tryon, referred to as Tryon Secure), “limited secure” (Lansing), and “non-secure” (another part of Tryon, referred to as Tryon Girls). According to OCFS, girls sent to the “non-secure” portion of Tryon “do not require the more restrictive setting of a limited secure facility.” Yet both the “secure” and “non-secure” portions of Tryon consist of barracks-like units surrounded by layers of razor wire. Girls’ activities are tightly controlled and their interaction with each other is limited. In fact, there is little discernible difference between Tryon’s “secure” and “non-secure” units.

Throughout Tryon and Lansing, all girls are bound in some combination of handcuffs, leg-shackles, and leather restraint belts any time they leave the facility. Girls are also subject to frequent strip-searches in which they must undress in front of a staff person and submit to a thorough visual inspection including their genitals. All correctional systems must take appropriate precautions to maintain security and to ensure that weapons, drugs, or other contraband are not smuggled by transported prisoners. Nevertheless, these measures should be reasonable, proportionate, and objectively justified. The measures taken by OCFS are hard to justify as legitimate or reasonable security measures for children, many of whom have been found by judges to require a “non-secure” environment.

Tryon and Lansing provide haphazard and insufficient educational and vocational opportunities for girls. When a girl is ordered to a juvenile facility, she is discharged from her public school and the facility becomes responsible for ensuring one of her most basic and important rights—the right to an education. Classes held at Lansing and Tryon combine girls of varying educational levels and needs, and are insufficiently staffed with qualified teachers. Girls are therefore either intellectually understimulated or overwhelmed, and girls complain that the facilities’ main aim seems to be preparing them to take the General Equivalency Diploma exam, rather than helping them achieve a high school diploma. Both OCFS and the schools themselves fail to ensure that girls leaving facilities are properly placed back in public schools. The lack of reentry assistance provided to girls and poor coordination between facilities and schools likely contributes to the troubling fact that two-thirds of high school aged boys and girls leaving juvenile facilities do not re-enter regular public high schools.

When vocational training is available at all, that offered to girls is limited to stereotypically female pursuits such as culinary arts, cosmetology, and clerical skills. By contrast, comparable boys’ facilities offer a range of vocational classes providing marketable skills and nationally recognized certifications. These educational failings can amount to a crippling future disadvantage for incarcerated girls, exacerbating the pattern of intergenerational educational and economic marginalization suffered by many of the girls and their families.

In New York in 2004, of the children screened by OCFS for special needs when taken into custody, 48 percent had physical health needs, 52 percent had mental health needs, and 77 percent had substance abuse problems. Sixty-nine percent of screened children had multiple special needs. OCFS documents and the statements of administrators reveal that staff are aware of and concerned about the health needs of incarcerated girls. Serious failings remain nevertheless, especially where mental health services are concerned. Many incarcerated girls physically harm themselves and even attempt suicide, to which facilities’ staff frequently respond with punishment in addition to treatment. Mental health counseling by professionally trained staff is largely inadequate, and much “counseling” is instead provided by ordinary line staff without credentials or training in psychotherapeutic treatment.

Judges, attorneys, family members, and friends of incarcerated girls have little chance of learning exactly how girls in OCFS facilities are treated, not least because Tryon and Lansing are located hundreds of miles away from New York City, the place most incarcerated girls call home, and because girls’ access to means of communication is strictly limited. Girls are cut off from the outside world in other ways too. Once a girl is placed in an OCFS facility, she loses the state-funded lawyer who represented her in court, unless an appeal or other post-adjudication legal proceeding is underway.

Girls incarcerated in New York’s juvenile system who wish to seek redress for infringements on their rights have few options. In most cases, the only place to which they can turn is the same facility and at times the very same staff members responsible for the wrongs about which they are complaining. Girls’ primary means of drawing attention to problems they experience within a facility is the filing of written grievances. All of the girls HRW/ACLU interviewed said they found the grievance process frustrating and ineffective, most commonly because their grievances were ignored. Thus hidden from public scrutiny and without an effective mechanism for seeking redress, girls in Tryon and Lansing continue to endure harmful treatment and neglect.

One important reason that the abusive treatment and other problems described in this report continue is the absence of genuinely independent oversight of the Tryon and Lansing juvenile facilities. Combined with the facilities’ isolated rural location and restrictions on incarcerated children’s contact with the outside world, the facilities operate in an informational vacuum. Inadequate funding for existing monitors, such as the facilities ombudsman, as well as OCFS’s failure to maintain a functioning Independent Review Board as required by law, are partly to blame. The ombudsman’s office is also weak because it is part of OCFS, answerable to and physically located within OCFS headquarters. New York’s Child Protective Services (CPS) is likewise a sub-part of OCFS and its existence is not known to many incarcerated girls. Another established monitor, New York’s Office of the Inspector General, does not provide the necessary oversight because OCFS represents only a small piece of its broad mandate, and because it conducts no regular monitoring visits to OCFS’s locked facilities. Although judges, legislators, and other state officials have the power under state law to visit the facilities at will, this power is rarely if ever invoked. In response to efforts by outside investigators to gather information on how OCFS runs its juvenile facilities, the agency’s leadership has proven itself secretive and adverse to scrutiny, effectively leaving the public in the dark. Within this institutional scheme, children are left to fend for themselves.

The “key recommendations” below highlight immediate steps we believe OCFS and other state authorities must take to stop some of the most egregious abuses documented in this report. We then provide detailed recommendations for the state and local authorities with responsibilities affecting the conditions under which girls are incarcerated in New York State. Change is essential since girls’ near total isolation from outside eyes and ears allows abuses to continue undetected and without remedy.

Download PDF file of Summary and Recommendations
(183 kb, 14 pages)

Download PDF file of this report
(1.4 Mb, 136 pages)

Download PDF of report with cover
(1.6 Mb, 138 pages)

ABA Juvenile Justice Center

ABA National Juvenile Defender Center

Juvenile Info Network

Juvenile Justice Bookstore

National Center for Juvenile Justice

DOJ Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Center on Criminal and Juvenile Justice

Ethical Treatment for All Youth
  Advocating for the humane and just treatment of children and teenagers accused of violating sex laws

           An In-Depth Report by Human Rights Watch and the ACLU
Published September 2006
Cruel & Unusual?

Once children are prosecuted as adults, they become subject to the same prison sentences that can be imposed on adults, including in forty-two states, the sentence of life without parole.  In twenty-seven of the forty-two states in which youth can be sentenced to life without parole, the sentence is mandatory for anyone, child or adult, found guilty of certain enumerated crimes.

Is such punishment fair for juvenile offenders?

In March 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons  that the death penalty for crimes committed by people under 18 violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments." That might have surprised the people who ratified the Amendment in 1791, many of whom found such executions neither cruel nor unusual. But the Court said that the meaning of the Amendment changes with "evolving standards of decency."

Their decision has convinced prosecutors and activists that the next legal battleground in the U.S. will be over life sentences for juveniles.

'Unformed' Personalities

In the Supreme Court's decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said teenagers were different, at least for purposes of the ultimate punishment. They are immature and irresponsible. They are more susceptible to negative influences, including peer pressure. And teenagers' personalities are unformed. "Even a heinous crime committed by a juvenile," Justice Kennedy concluded, "is not evidence of irretrievably depraved character."


States that don't allow and/or have abolished life-without-parole sentences for juveniles are Alaska, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Mexico, New York, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.  Lawmakers in Michigan, where at least 306 lifers were juveniles when sentenced, introduced legislation in November to abolish life-without-parole sentences
for young offenders (See Second Chance Legislation Organization - Michigan)

In terms of gender, all but a tiny fraction (2.6 percent) of the child offenders serving life without parole are male.

Almost 93 percent of the youth sentenced to life without parole were convicted of homicide.

The specter of “super predators” created much of the national furor over youth violence. Politicians and the public thought their communities were (or would be) besieged by vicious teenagers with long records of crime. Yet few of the child offenders sentenced to life without parole fit this super predator profile. Recent research suggests that 59 percent of youth offenders received a life without parole sentence for their first-ever criminal conviction of any sort. These youth had neither an adult criminal record nor a juvenile adjudication. 

From 1962 until 1981, an average of two youth offenders in the United States entered prison each year with life without parole sentences. Beginning in 1982, the number began to rise markedly, peaking at 152 youth in 1996. Although the number has declined since 1996, it has never returned to the much lower figures from the 1960s to mid-1980s.

Comparing the imposition of life without parole sentences on children and adults convicted of murder casts additional light on the increasing punitiveness toward child offenders. As shown by research, 11 out of the 17 years between 1985 and 2001, youth convicted of murder were more likely to enter prison with a life without parole sentence than adult murder offenders.   Even when death sentences are included, in one quarter of the same seventeen years, child murder offenders were more likely to receive either the death penalty or life without parole than adults. In the remaining years, adults were only slightly more likely to enter prison with either life without parole or death sentences (between 1.3 and 0.1 percentage points)—a remarkable finding given that during most of the years studied, large numbers of states had abolished the juvenile death penalty. On its face, this data suggests that states have often been more punitive towards children who commit murder than adults. At the very least, it suggests age has not been much of a mitigating factor in the sentencing of youth convicted of murder.

Theorically, LWOP - the most severe form of a life sentence - is available for juvenile criminals in about a dozen countries, including the United States. But a joint report issued by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in 2005 found juveniles serving such sentences in only 3 other countries:  Israel has 7, South Africa has 4 and Tanzania
has 1. (Total 12)  By contrast, the report counted some 2,250 people in the United States serving life without parole for crimes they committed before turning 18.  More than 350 of them were 15 or younger, according to the report.

To house the "lifer" population, each year California spends at least $31, 000 per inmate, at an annual cost of nearly $1 billion out of a total annual adult correctional budget of close to $6 billion. As they get older, their incarceration will become far more expensive because of increased health-care costs.  Beyond costs and logistics, their continued incarceration raises difficult moral and ethical questions. Should we continue to detain inmates who have committed violent -- often shocking -- crimes, even when prison counselors and others who have worked with them closely testify that they are fully rehabilitated and no longer present a danger to society? At what point are we able to forgive individuals for crimes committed decades before, often when they were in their teens or early 20s? (SF Gate 7-1-05)


Unprecedented drop in California youth crime and incarceration rates:
Lowest levels of imprisoned youth in modern state history. 

Sacramento – On Wednesday, June 28th, at 11:00 am in the Governor’s Press Room at the State Capitol, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) will release a new study showing California’s youth crime at its lowest level in almost
30 years and youth incarceration rates are the lowest in modern state history. Data gathered from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the California Department of Justice show that the state’s youth incarceration rate declined from a 1980 rate of 170 per 100,000 to a 2004 rate of 91. During the same period, the youth violent crime arrest rate declined from 556 per 100,000 to 348. “The simultaneous declines in youth crime and incarceration defy the popular assumptions that have driven California sentencing policy for 25 years”, said CJCJ Executive Director and report coauthor,  Daniel Macallair. “For more than two decades California crime policy has been based on the belief that the more people you had in prison the less crime you have on the street.  This research found no evidence to support this argument. In fact at the same time youth crime and incarceration rates were falling to historically low levels, an unprecedented 500% increase in adult imprisonment produced no reductions in crime rates.”

LWOP For Juveniles: The Next Legal Battleground
Justice For Scott Dyleski Website
An Adult Jail Is No Place For A Kid - Judge is Right to Call The Practice "Barbaric"
Court Hears Antidepressant (Christopher Pittman) Murder Case
Teen Sentenced to Five Years For Killing Popular Salesclerk Defendant's Actions Blamed on Antidepressants
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Boy's life sacrificed on the altar of politics?
October 3, 2006

This Thursday, at 9:30 a.m., Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal will call the South Carolina Supreme Court to order. The larger than usual gallery of spectators will include a 10-ton elephant that will take center stage when the State vs. Christopher Frank Pittman
is called for oral arguments.

Indeed, the fate of the boy who was 12 years old and weighed a mere 100 pounds on a fateful evening in November, 2001 may well depend on whether the judges notice the gigantic pachyderm standing right smack in front of him.

Christopher's mother abandoned the boy shortly after he was born, consigning the child and his sister to an unstable home life populated by an overbearing father and a succession of disappearing stepmothers. The boy did, however, have an especially close bond with his paternal grandparents, Joe and Joy Pittman, who lived near the family's home in Florida.

In the summer of 2001, Christopher's mother suddenly reappeared in his young life. Being just a little boy, Christopher didn't understand that a mother who summarily discards her child isn't a good candidate for spontaneous redemption. So, he naively chose to believe that a new life awaited the family, a child-like profession of faith for which she promptly rewarded him by taking off once again.

His dreams of normalcy shattered, the devastated boy was overtaken by a deep depression. After threatening to kill himself, Christopher was committed to a psychiatric facility.

Upon being released to the custody of his grandparents, Christopher was prescribed Zoloft, an antidepressant not recommended for use by children. From the outset, the youngster suffered severe negative reactions to the powerful drug, culminating in the tragic events of Nov. 28, 2001 when he shot and killed both of his beloved grandparents while they were sleeping in their home.


When Lucinda Mckeller of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division eventually took Christopher into custody, she told the isolated, distraught and thoroughly defenseless child to call her "Lucy" and then proceeded to extract a "confession" out of him -- written by her own hand and featuring lofty adult language -- wherein he purported to admit to having killed because his grandfather had been physically abusive to him.

Incredibly, Mckeller not only assumed that this child fully understood his Miranda rights but voluntarily waived them. In fact, she didn't even accord the boy the safeguard of recording the interrogation.

Prosecutors seized upon the confession to indulge in the popular, albeit counterintuitive notion, that little children leapfrog into adulthood by doing particularly bad things. Thus, Christopher was tried in the Charleston Circuit Court and convicted of two counts of murder by a South Carolina jury in February of last year.

This, despite compelling testimony from highly credentialed expert witnesses that Christopher was under the profound influence of Zoloft's alarming effects at the time of the incident and unable to resist the drug's command hallucination to kill.

Thereafter, Judge Daniel Pieper, brushing aside evidence of serious jury misconduct and a compelling argument that the prescribed mandatory sentence was unconstitutional, sentenced Christopher to an adult prison for a minimum term of 30 years. These are among the several issues that the Supreme Court will consider this Thursday.


Most intriguing, however, is an argument posited on a provision of South Carolina law that a child between the ages of 7 and 14 is presumed to be incapable of having the mental capacity to commit a crime. The prosecution can, however, rebut the presumption by presenting appropriate evidence that a particular child between those ages does possess the capacity to commit a crime.

The prosecution produced no expert testimony as to Christopher's criminal capacity on its direct case. After the state rested, however, the defense made only a general motion for dismissal without specifically citing the prosecution's failure to establish Christopher's mental capacity to commit a crime.

The prosecution now argues that the defense thereby waived the argument on appeal. The defense counters that its general
motion to dismiss was sufficient to preserve the issue for appellate review. While this critical issue should have been specifically raised by the defense after the state rested its case, the defense's general motion was probably sufficient to raise the matter on appeal given the enormous stakes involved.

That brings us back to the 10-ton elephant stalking the halls of justice down in Charleston. Christopher was 12 when he killed his grandparents. If this young child is an adult, the 16-year-old page to whom a Florida congressman sent suggestive e-mails must be a senior citizen. Why such concern for his well-being?

Why can't Christopher and others like him vote, sit on juries, smoke cigarettes, drink beer, enlist in the military, skip school, hold public office or drive automobiles? Why is society so committed to preventing child abuse on the one hand while fostering it by sending little children to be beaten, brutalized and sexually accosted by hardened adult prisoners?

When Christopher Pittman killed his grandparents, he was a child and not an adult. No prosecution however persuasive, no legal fiction however indulged, no rationale however twisted, and no political agenda, however morally bankrupt, can change that --

That is the 10- ton elephant that will position itself before the judges of the South Carolina Supreme Court this Thursday. If they see the prodigious creature, their decision will write itself and Christopher Pittman's agonizing five year ordeal will be over.

Daniel Leddy's On The Law column appears each Tuesday on the Advance Op-Ed Page. His e-mail address is JudgeLeddy@si.rr.com.

© 2006 Staten Island Advance
© 2006 SILive.com All Rights Reserved.
South Carolina Supreme Court Hears Antidepressant Murder Case
Justice for Christopher Pittman Website
Read the Pittman Defense team's Amended Initial Brief HERE

Read the State's Final Brief HERE

Read the Pittman team's Final Reply HERE

For full coverage of the Pittman Case, click HERE

Dad worried about teen's move to prison
As of January 16, 2007 there has been no decision announced by the SC Supreme Court
All Children Have The Right To Constitutional And Statutory Protections

"There is no crueler tyranny than that which is exercised under cover of law,
and with the colors of justice ..."
U.S. v. Jannotti, 673 F.2d 578, 614 (3d Cir. 1982)
Martin Lee Anderson was a teenager from Florida who died at age 14 while incarcerated at a juvenile-detention-style boot camp, located in Panama City and operated by the Bay County Sheriff's Office.  Seven former juvenile boot camp guards and a nurse have been charged with aggravated manslaughter in the death of Anderson whose rough handling by the guards was videotaped.
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15 Year Old Boy Dies at Tryon Boys Juvenile Rehabilitation Center
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All Children Have The Right To Constitutional And Statutory Protections

Dad, I'm really scared.
Scared that I will die in here.
-- Rodney Hulin, 16, writing to his father from an adult prison in Texas.

Every day in prisons across the United States, kids are fighting for their lives.

They're locked in mortal combat with adult criminals who are bigger, stronger, meaner and much tougher. Some kids will survive,
and come out of prison with all the mean, tough survival skills that prison life teaches. Some kids won't.

Rodney Hulin didn't.

Sixteen years old, Rodney Hulin was beaten and raped so often in a Texas adult prison that he hung himself in his cell. He lay in a coma for four months, and finally died. Rodney Hulin is not alone. 

IF I GET OUT ALIVE is a one-hour radio documentary, which exposes the systematic abuse and brutality faced by juveniles in the adult prison system. It is narrated by Academy Award-winning actress and child advocate Diane Keaton. The program addresses first-hand accounts from adolescents currently behind bars, rehabilitated youths who survived the system, parents of children who died in adult prisons, legal experts, policy makers and correction officers. The program also addresses the abysmal mental health conditions in prison and jails faced by young people (fifty percent of whom, according to new research, are affected by a serious mental illness) as well as examining alternative sentencing programs that are successful in diverting young offenders from prison. 

AUDIO:  Listen to Program

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