June 10, 2010
Governor David Patterson has established a juvenile justice task force authorized to investigate circumstances and procedures for sentencing juveniles in the State of New York. The task force has suggested that New York should stop sentencing low risk juvenile offenders to facilities far from their family residences. The task force has suggested in the alternative that they be sent to lower cost community based programs.
The community based programs would closely monitor the juveniles. They would establish mentoring programs for these children. There would be curfew checks, review of school performances and detailed after school programs to keep them busy. The study has shown that low risk juveniles who have been placed in similar programs can be rehabilitated without the need for institutionalization.
The task force recommendations are excellent. However, the State of New York will not be carrying them out. The budget submitted by Governor Patterson does not contain funds or programs that would encourage localities to develop the recommended community based alternative programs.
Under the current system, New York State reimburses localities for about half the cost of operating pretrial detention programs for juveniles. These costs can be as high as $200,000 per child, per year, to incarcerate a juvenile in a large institution. Presently the state has no program to reimburse localities for community based programs. These programs can cost as little as $5,000 per year.
Senator Velmanette Montgomery, a democrat from Brooklyn has proposed a bill in the State Senate to set aside $12 million to encourage programs for juvenile criminal offenders. These bill is a step in the right direction. Hopefully the legislature of the State of New York will approve it.
In the United States today there are more than more than twenty-two hundred (2,200) juveniles who are incarcerated as adults. These juveniles are serving life sentences without the ability to obtain parole (to be released from jail prior to the end of their sentence). Among the twenty-two hundred (2,200) juveniles, there are some prisoners who are as young as thirteen (13) years old.
In 2005, the United States Supreme Court, in a close decision (5-4), held that an individual who committed a crime when he or she was younger than eighteen (18) years of age cannot be executed. The court held this was unconstitutional.
On Monday, November 16, 2009, attorneys representing two minors sentenced in the State of Florida argued before the United States Supreme Court that the theory behind the prior death penalty decision in 2005 should also be extended to minors receiving life sentences.
The theory behind the death penalty decision of the United States Supreme Court was based on two key factors: (1) minors are not as culpable for this crimes as adults and they can be reformed and (2) The Supreme Court held that it would be “cruel and unusual punishment” to execute minors. Cruel and unusual punishment is banned by the 8th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Terrence Graham and another individual robbed a restaurant. He is in jail for this crime. In 2004, when he was only seventeen (17) years of age, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. This action was taken because he violated the terms of his probation by committing another robbery at gun point.
Joseph Sullivan, committed a burglary when he was thirteen years old. He thereafter was convicted of sexual battery against a seventy-two year old woman. Joseph Sullivan, a mentally disabled individual, has been convicted of several serious felonies and seventeen criminal offenses overall.
In the aforementioned two cases, both of the juveniles were given life sentences for crimes that did not involve homicides. It should be noted that more than 135 countries throughout the world do not allow life sentences for juveniles.
The United Nations Treaty prevents the imprisonment of children without the possibility of parole. All of the countries who are members of the United Nations with the exception of the United States and lonely Samoa have executed this treaty.
Is our society mature and sophisticated enough to deal with errant juveniles without warehousing them in prisons for their entire life?
Picture courtesy of acslaw.org