In the first few months of 2014, West Virginia and Hawaii have abolished life-without-parole sentences for youth, others have scaled back its use, and state high courts in Illinois and Texas and a federal district court in the 8th Circuit have ruled that the Miller v. Alabama decision is retroactive. CFSY staff have served as an expert in the media, given a TEDx talk. And earlier this week, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that more discretion must be given to judges to consider the distinct attributes of youthfulness and impose alternatives to JLWOP. These are just a few signs of progress in our movement so far this year.
In order to keep momentum going and deepen our effectiveness, we are grateful to have been able to grow the CFSY team in these last few months as well. With our additional staff, we have expanded our engagement of communities directly impacted by JLWOP and our technical assistance to practitioners in the courts to improve outcomes for youth who could face the possibility of JLWOP sentences.
In recent months, we have also seen growing, diverse support for age-appropriate alternatives to life without parole for crimes committed as children. In case you missed them, we want to share two influential op-eds that were recently published to advance our cause.
West Virginia Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, who was a champion of legislation that state passed this year to abolish life without parole for children, wrote an op-ed about meaningful legislative reforms to comply with Miller. West Virginia not only abolished JLWOP, but created more scrutiny at sentencing and meaningful opportunities for release for all youth in the adult criminal justice system. Ellem touted this reform as a conservative approach because it addresses public safety, the needs of victims, and the potential for children to grow and change. It also provides opportunities to reduce the state’s expenditures on incarceration. Marc Levin, policy director for Right on Crime, a conservative advocacy group in favor of reforming the criminal justice system, makes a similar argument in the Hartford Courant.
These op-eds provide increased public awareness about the need for age-appropriate consequences when children commit crimes and demonstrate that there is broad-based support for such policy reforms.
Thank you for your continued partnership and commitment. Together, we will eliminate the practice of sentencing children to die in prison.
Jody Kent Lavy