My name is Preston Shipp, and for several years I worked as an appellate prosecutor. It was my job to argue to the appeals court that the conviction and sentence that a criminal defendant had received in trial court was proper under the law. All that I knew about any given defendant was the worst thing he or she had ever done, and my task was to vindicate society and the victim by punishing the offender. I bought into the common misconception that the system works as it should and that people who break the law, even as children, receive precisely what they deserve.
After working on hundreds of cases, however, I came to understand that our criminal justice policies, particularly our treatment of children as adults, was wrongheaded and a betrayal of our beliefs that young people can and do change and are deserving of second chances. I came to be friends with people who had received adult sentences while they were still juveniles. These young friends of mine had experienced rehabilitation and demonstrated the capacity to do great things for society, yet they languished in prison under the weight of adult sentences that had been imposed when they were too young to drive a car. What a senseless waste of human potential!
I left my job as a prosecutor and am grateful to be a partner of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. I applaud the work the Campaign is doing to provide age-appropriate alternatives to extreme sentences for children, just alternatives that leave room for children to experience rehabilitation and return to their families and communities. The Campaign recognizes the inherent value of all children and that children are more than the worst moment of their young lives.
The Campaign reached out to me, a former prosecutor, and helped me see that caring for our children is the responsibility of us all. No child should be discarded through the imposition of extreme sentencing. I appreciate my friends at the Campaign for showing me that we can and must do better for our children.