Teenagers should not be sentenced to life in prison for murder

Teenagers should not be sentenced to life in prison for murder

Erica Bandenchini

North Carolina judges are trying to decide if inmates who are serving life sentences for murders they committed as teenagers should be given a chance at parole after 25 years, according to the Fayetteville Observer.

Minors should not be expected to serve life sentences without parole eligibility.

A June 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling referred to as Miller vs. Alabama prevented offenders under the age of 18 from being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in the U.S.

The court decided that it is unconstitutional to sentence teenage killers as adults, because they have not reached adult maturity.

The issue is whether or not this ruling affects young killers who were sentenced before June 2012. Up until this point, first-degree murderers between the ages of 13 and 17 were automatically sentenced to life without parole if found guilty.

Because the ruling did not specify whether or not previously convicted offenders would be affected, some defendants have been granted new sentences while others have not.

Cathy Marcum, assistant professor in the Department of Government and Justice Studies, supports the change in legislation and believes that each individual’s case should be reviewed and considered based on the circumstances.

“While the crimes that these juveniles committed were very serious, it is important to remember that the brain of a juvenile is not fully developed until age 23, 24,” she said. “These individuals are more likely to make irrational, impulsive decisions compared to an adult.”

I certainly agree with Marcum, particularly in cases in which the defendant was affiliated with the crime, but was not the actual killer. Miller vs. Alabama made sure that individuals in such situations would be eligible for parole after 25 years, according to the Fayetteville Observer. I definitely think that those convicted before the ruling should have their cases reviewed, as well.

Jefferson Holcomb, an associate professor in the Department of Government and Justice Studies, noted the difference between making someone eligible for parole and releasing them from prison.

“There may be inmates who committed terrible acts but eventually deserve consideration for release after serving a meaningful prison sentence for their crimes,” he said. “The fact that these were juveniles when they committed their original crimes may further justify consideration at some future time.”

At the time of the Miller vs. Alabama ruling, 88 defendants were in prison in North Carolina for crimes they committed as teenagers. These defendants should have the opportunity to have their cases heard by a judge.

The decision of whether to make them eligible for parole should be made on a case-by-case basis, but in many situations juveniles do not have the discretion that adults have. Inmates who show remorse and are not likely to murder again should at least be able to have their voices heard.

Holcomb was not surprised that the legislation change required parole consideration only after the offender served 25 years in prison, he said.

“While that will never be enough for some people, especially victims’ families, it still represents a significant punishment…it does not mean they will actually be released,” Holcomb said.

It is important to take into consideration the severity of the crime and the impact on the victims’ families, but it is also important to understand that the parole eligibility does not mean the inmate is automatically released from prison.

I certainly hope that the legislation change will apply to those convicted before June 2012, and that inmates who show remorse will have the opportunity to apply for parole in the future.

Badenchini, a freshman journalism major from Apex, is an opinion writer.