In the United States, a teenager can face incarceration for life for committing a serious crime, such as a felony murder. While a June 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled that juvenile life sentences must include the possibility of parole, such a sentence would still result in decades in prison. Many Americans believe that life in prison is too harsh for teens. Others argue that certain crimes warrant tough penalties, no matter the age of the offender.
At Luftman, Heck & Associates, we’ve handled numerous cases involving teenage offenses, and we aggressively fought to get their charges reduced or dismissed. We know how damaging a conviction for a teen can be, which is why we do everything in our power to keep juveniles from winding up behind bars.
U.S. Teenage Violent Crimes — By The Numbers
Violent crimes committed by teens take place across the country in surprisingly high numbers each year. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, over 157 juvenile arrests for violent crimes were made per 100,000 persons ages 10-17 in 2014. That is more than 500,000 violent crimes in 2014 alone.
While recent juvenile violent crime figures seem surprisingly high, they actually represent the lowest juvenile arrest rate since 1980. Still, with so many teens entering the criminal justice system due to violent crimes, many are facing harsh penalties including, in some cases, life in prison.
Arguments For and Against Life in Prison for Teens
Those in favor of punishing teens with life in prison see the penalty as a fair form of deterrence that contributes to the safety of society and fosters a sense of justice for survivors. Proponents argue that the sentence of life in prison is a form of:
- Deterrence — Harsher penalties help deter teenagers from engaging in violent crime by serving as a warning to others.
- Justice — Life in prison can provide a victim’s family with a sense of justice, knowing that the harshest punishment possible is being served by the offender.
- Safety — Keeping violent criminals off the streets makes for a safer society, no matter the offenders age.
On the other hand, those against teenage life in prison see the punishment as unduly harsh, given developmental stages, potential for reform, and vulnerability within the prison system. Opponents of life in prison for teens argue that the sentence doesn’t consider a juvenile in terms of their:
- Life stage — Developmentally, juveniles are still in the process of learning right from wrong. Punishing them for something they’re not biologically equipped to understand is inhumane.
- Capacity for reform — Putting teens behind bars for life denies them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and grow. It denies them a meaningful chance for reform.
- Future — Teenagers who grow up in the prison system may be at special risk, either as victims or perpetrators of additional crimes. Life in prison could lead to greater danger within prisons, not safety.
How the Experienced Columbus Criminal Defense Attorneys at Luftman, Heck & Associates Can Help You
At Luftman, Heck & Associates, we’ve seen countless teenagers unduly prosecuted or unfairly charged for an alleged crime. We know how damaging a conviction can be, which is why we’re committed to fighting to defend the rights of teens and working diligently to get their charges reduced or dismissed entirely.
When it comes to the question of life in prison, we are opposed to punishing teens with decades of incarceration. We believe that teens should NOT be sentenced to life in prison, as this punishment denies them the opportunity of reform. If you’re a teen facing criminal charges or know of a teen who might be seeking representation, call the experienced Columbus criminal defense attorneys at Luftman, Heck & Associates today for a free, initial consultation at (614) 500-3836.