I just saw that the folks at Data for Progress, The Justice Collaborative Institute, and Fair and Just Prosecution have produced this notable new report titled “A Majority of Voters Support an End to Extreme Sentencing for Children,” on which the CFSY was consulted and offered support. The report discusses findings from two national polls indicating much of the public supports significant reform in juvenile sentencing and punishment. Here is part of its executive summary:
Extreme sentences have contributed to the United States being the number one incarcerator in the world — disparately impacting and devastating communities of color — and juvenile life-without-parole sentences are among the most draconian ongoing practices in our country. These sentences essentially abandon young people to die in prison, despite the fact that children have great potential for rehabilitation and are deserving of second chances.
While a series of Supreme Court decisions in the past decade has altered the landscape of juvenile life-without-parole sentences, there are still too many men and women looking at spending the rest of their lives in prison for acts they committed as youth. Juvenile life-without-parole sentences also contribute to the racial disparities in the criminal legal system overall: 80 percent of people serving life sentences for crimes they committed as youth are non-white. More than 50 percent are Black.
But public discourse is shifting. Reform that ends juvenile life-without-parole sentences is both popular with the public and simple common sense. Community members across the ideological spectrum understand that young people have the capacity to change, and want the justice system to rehabilitate young people, rather than imprison them for life. Two recent national polls conducted by Data For Progress found that a majority of voters believe no one who committed a crime as a child should be sentenced to life in prison without the hope or the opportunity for a second chance. Fewer than a third of voters disagree.
As the public conversation considers the future of policing and the meaning of public safety, criminal justice leaders must use this as an opportunity to think more broadly about the entire criminal justice system and make critical changes, especially changes that are sensible, supported by science, and in furtherance of racial equity. There is no better place to begin than to give young people a chance at redemption and end juvenile life-without-parole.