Supreme Court challenges Pennsylvania juvenile jail sentences

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently examining a challenge against sentencing juvenile offenders to life sentences without the possibility of parole. The court's decision would have a major impact on the sentencing guidelines imposed on Pennsylvania's judges. Our state has sentenced more than 440 juvenile delinquents to life in jail; more than any other state.

The Supreme Court could alter the Constitution making parole available to all juvenile criminal offenders, no matter what the crime. Pennsylvania law already prohibits teen executions and sentencing youngsters to life-without-parole unless the crime involved a death. Many argue that since our brains are not fully developed until our mid-20s, that juvenile offenders cannot fully understand the consequences of their behavior. Proponents of changing the laws say that teens' diminished capacity makes them more susceptible to peer pressure and can easily be convinced to commit a crime. It's for that same reason that young criminals have the best chance at rehabilitation.

Another option available to the justices is not necessarily banning no-parole sentences for children. They could give the discretion to each individual judge in juvenile cases to impose such tough penalties to if they feel the crime was heinous enough to warrant it. However, children who serve the majority of a life sentence should probably earn a second chance.

Unless there is a murder involved, youthful criminals are usually allowed rehabilitation options so as not to harm their educational or professional futures. Upon successful completion of their supervision, many teens are able to get their records expunged in Montgomery County.

Source: philly.com, "Juvenile offenders don't deserve no-parole terms," April 21, 2012

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