We Just Got A Little More Civilized… Just A Little

June 25, 2012 will forever mark the day in U.S. history when we took another very small step towards becoming civilized. On this day the Supreme Court ruled, in a close 5-4 decision, that mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, for juveniles, is unconstitutional violating the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. 28 out of 50 U.S. states mandate life terms for murders, which includes those under the age of 18. There are currently 2,500 inmates who are serving life sentences for crimes they committed when they were juveniles. 2,000 of those sentences were imposed because they were mandated by legislature, according to the Associated Press. Those Supreme Court Judges in favor of the ruling included Justices Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Kagan. After the ruling Justice Kagan stated.

“Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” Justice Kagan added. “It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds him — and from which he cannot usually extricate himself — no matter how brutal or dysfunctional.”

(N.Y. Times)

This ruling by the Supreme Court is significant to the effect that it requires, for the first time in U.S. judicial history, the court to apply some factors of the scientific method before sentencing a juvenile. Meaning the court can no longer solely look at the actions of the child and blindly say, you did a bad thing, so that makes you a bad person, lock him up and throw away the key. From here on out the court must consider the age of the child, his environment and life circumstances which brought him to the point where he is today. In essence the court would be getting down to the root causes of the child’s actions. Though this may seem like a big step forward it is actually a very small step do to the fact that the child offenders may be getting a lighter sentence but still won’t be getting the proper rehabilitation necessary to change the child’s physiological state and make him a functioning member of society. In the end the child will still go to jail. Further more, why not implement this ruling in all criminal cases including adults. Is it not better to figure out the root causes of all criminal behavior other than blindly throwing them in jail. But once again it is all in vain if we do implement this ruling yet continue to simply put children and adults in jail, rather than rehabilitating them to become fully functional members of society. As necessary as this ruling was, we’ve clearly still have a long ways to go to becoming a civilized people.


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