Monday, October 03, 2005

Jailed for Life After Crimes as Teenagers

OCALA, Fla:About 9,700 American prisoners are serving life sentences for crimes they committed before they could vote, serve on a jury or gamble in a casino in short, before they turned 18. More than a fifth have no chance for parole. Juvenile criminals are serving life terms in at least 48 states, according to a survey by The New York Times, and their numbers have increased sharply over the past decade.
Rebecca Falcon is one of them.Ms. Falcon, now 23, is living out her days at the Lowell Correctional Institution here. But eight years ago, she was a reckless teenager and running with a thuggish crowd when one night she got drunk on bourbon and ruined her life.Ms. Falcon faults her choice of friends."I tried cheerleaders, heavy metal people, a little bit of country and, you know, it never felt right," Ms. Falcon said. "I started listening to rap music and wearing my pants baggy. I was like a magnet for the wrong crowd." ....But a report to be issued on Oct. 12 by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found juveniles serving such sentences in only three others. Israel has seven, South Africa has four and Tanzania has one.
By contrast, the report counted some 2,200 people in the United States serving life without parole for crimes they committed before turning 18. More than 350 of them were 15 or younger, according to the report.
The Supreme Court's decision earlier this year to ban the juvenile death penalty, which took into account international attitudes about crime and punishment, has convinced prosecutors and activists that the next legal battleground in the United States will be over life in prison for juveniles.
Society has long maintained age distinctions for things like drinking alcohol and signing contracts, and the highest court has ruled that youths under 18 who commit terrible crimes are less blameworthy than adults. Defense lawyers and human rights advocates say that logic should extend to sentences of life without parole.Prosecutors and representatives of crime victims say that a sentence of natural life is the minimum fit punishment for a heinous crime, adding that some people are too dangerous ever to walk the streets.......


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