By Gail Garinger, The Lowell Sun

Fair sentencing for juveniles requires holding youth accountable for their
actions and providing them with resources for rehabilitation, while recognizing
the paramount importance of ensuring public safety.

Our pledge to children in the commonwealth should be that we will start early
and never give up — particularly for children who have grown up in poverty and
with difficulties imposed on them by their parents and communities. Abuse and
neglect in the home and violence in the community create toxic stress in the
developing brains of children. We should not be surprised when these same
children find their way to trouble, and our response should include compassion
and rehabilitative services in addition to accountability.

Youths charged with murder are automatically tried as adults and, if
convicted of first-degree murder, receive a mandatory sentence of life without
parole. Life without the possibility of parole is the harshest punishment
available in Massachusetts, and imposing it on children ages 14, 15, and 16 is
an exceptionally severe sanction. A child’s age, past conduct, level of
participation in the crime, personal background and potential for rehabilitation
are irrelevant. These youths will grow up and grow old in prison, and they will
die while still incarcerated.

The law subjecting adolescents as young as 14 to life sentences without the
possibility of parole was enacted in reaction to a number of circumstances,
including insufficient punishment in the 1980s.
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