Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof/Justice You Shall Pursue
By Lisa Alcalay Klug
The United States is one of the few countries that permits the life sentencing of juveniles without the possibility of parole (JLWOP). According to Human Rights Watch, 2,380 people in this country are serving life sentences for crimes they committed before they turned 18. In the rest of the world, there are a total of 12.
A recent Frontline program, “When Kids Get Life,” details the stories of five juveniles individuals imprisoned in the United States. The full program, a teacher’s guide and other valuable resources exploring this issue are available online.
On May 4th, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the reasoning that led it to strike down the death penalty for juvenile offenders four years ago should also apply to sentences of life without the possibility of parole. As Adam Liptak reported in the New York Times, “The court accepted two cases on the issue, both from Florida and neither involving a killing… In the majority opinion in the death penalty case, Roper v. Simmons, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote that teenagers were immature, unformed, irresponsible and susceptible to negative influences, including peer pressure.
“Even a heinous crime committed by a juvenile,” Justice Kennedy concluded, is not “evidence of irretrievably depraved character.” (Read more here.)
The sentencing of juvenile life without the possibility of parole is considered “cruel and unusual” punishment, often inflicted against children by federal judges because of the use of racial profiling in identifying and charging suspects. JLWOP also violates international standards for the protection of children from institutionalized abuse.
An organization entitled Faith Communities for Families and Children has released a video entitled, “God Cries When We Sentence Children to Die in Prison.” Five religious leaders from diverse faith traditions are united in their shared conviction to end life without parole sentences for children.
We urge you to watch view this important video and help spread awareness about JLWOP.
On May 26th, 2009, a bloggers live webcast event will be held at www.mogulus.com/ricothomasrico (Check the website for live-chat and a call-in number to participate via telephone.) The program will feature Efren Paredes, Jr., 36, who was incarcerated at age 15 and is currently serving a life sentence in Michigan. This is part of a national campaign urging bloggers to post their opposition to juvenile life sentences without parole (JLWOP) on May 27th.
More information about efforts to abolish JLWOP is available at
The Pendulum Foundation, http://Abolish-JLWOP.blogspot.com,
http://compassioninjuvenilesentencing.wordpress.com/tag/jlwop/, The Injustice Must End (TIME) Committee to Free Efrén Paredes, Jr., http://www.4Efren.com, http://4Efren.blogspot.com, http://Free-Efren.blogspot.com.
Award-winning journalist Lisa Alcalay Klug is the author of Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe and founding editor of Tolerant Nation. Thanks to Wendy Kenin for bringing this issue to our attention.