By: Jamie King, Student in the EKU Online Corrections and Juvenile Justice Studies Program
The United States is currently the only country with individuals under the age of 18 serving a sentence of life without parole. This appears to be somewhat contradictory when one considers the abolishment of the death penalty for juveniles in 2005 following the case of Roper vs. Simmons. During this case it was ruled unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on offenders who were under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed. According to the ruling, juveniles were less culpable, or blameworthy, because of their vulnerability, lack of maturity, and susceptibility to negative influences, and thus the excessive nature of the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment (http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun05/jn.aspx). Wouldn’t the very same reasoning apply to life without the possibility of parole for juveniles?
Unfortunately this is not the case in the United States where there are currently 2,574 juveniles serving a life sentence (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqWBfPK0eYo). Life without the possibility of parole is too severe for juveniles who are underdeveloped emotionally as well as physically. I do not feel that juveniles should in any situation receive the sentence of life without parole. They deserve to be punished for their crimes however, the punishment should include psychiatric care and mental evaluations to determine competency and should also include other rehabilitative programs.
Jeremy Bentham who was the major proponent of the Utilitarian theory, felt that “punishment works when applied rationally to rational people, but is not acceptable when the person did not make a rational decision to commit the crime” (Pollock, 2010, pg. 324). Juveniles are not recognized as being able to make rational decisions. They must receive consent from an adult for almost anything they do such as receive health care and drive and they are not permitted to drink or smoke because they are “underage.” For these reasons, I find it difficult to understand why certain juvenile criminals are ineligible for any type of rehabilitation and are doomed to a life in prison. I am not against incarceration and feel that it is definitely a needed form of punishment for juveniles and adults alike. However, a life without parole sentence for juveniles is not fair punishment.