In the late 1980s, a small but influential group of criminologists predicted a coming wave of violent juvenile crime: “superpredators,” as young as 11, committing crimes in “wolf packs.” Politicians soon responded to those fears, and to concerns about the perceived inadequacies of state juvenile justice systems, by lowering the age at which children could be transferred to adult courts. The concern was that offenders prosecuted as juveniles would have to be released at age 18 or 21.At the same time, “tough on crime” rhetoric led some states to enact laws making it easier to impose life without parole sentences on adults. The unintended consequence of these laws was that children as young as 13 and 14 who were charged as adults became subject to life without parole sentences.Nationwide, 79 young adolescents have been sentenced to die in prison — a sentence not imposed on children anywhere else in the world. These children were told that they could never change and that no one cared what became of them. They were denied access to education and rehabilitation programs and left without help or hope.
Of course, that wave of "super predators" never materialized, and we instead entered a long period of declining crime rates. All the evidence is that teenagers are not adults, and I believe it is a mistake, and a failure in morality, to throw away their lives based on things they did at the age of 15. Now the Supreme Court will rule on a case determining whether juveniles can be sentenced to life without parole for homicide, and I join Garinger in her plea:
I urge the justices to apply the logic and the wisdom of their earlier decisions and affirm that the best time to decide whether someone should spend his entire life in prison is when he has grown to be an adult, not when he is still a child.