In November the United States Supreme Court will hear two cases from Florida in which juvenile offenders claim their life sentences — one for rape, the other for robbery — are unconstitutional. If the court rules life sentences for juveniles are inhumane, attorneys will immediately return to court and seek to have all of the juvenile life sentences ruled unconstitutional, and have them re-sentenced. That’s the BEST case scenario. Don’t count on it. Even if the court rules favorably, they could also rule very narrowly – that the law only applies to those of a certain age or those who were not involved in a homicide case. Felony murder doesn’t count as a “non-homicide” conviction. To the best of my knowledge Colorado doesn’t have any cases where a murder wasn’t involved. FL has about 70. If the court rules that JLWOP IS constitutional, that would be a setback. That would increase our efforts on a national level, and our side has some extremely talented attorneys who will be arguing before the court.
Several amicus briefs are being filed in support of overthrowing JLWOP. One, that will be filed on behalf of victims, will include the story of a Colorado victim, Sharletta Evans. We are very proud that Sharletta, who lost her three-year-old in a drive-by, will speak out in favor of forgiveness and redemption.
In conjunction with the pending ruling, publicity is increasing tenfold. Sixty Minutes will have a JLWOP segment probably in the early fall. Editorials in favor of overthrowing JLWOP have been written in CA, MI and other states. You will also see an increase in newspaper articles and television segments. Although Colorado no longer has JLWOP, I remind attorneys and media of those who are still serving life.
We recently spent time in Washington DC meeting with legislators and lobbying for HR2289 which would effectively eliminate JLWOP by granting that juveniles who have been sentenced to LWOP or the equivalent to a life sentence, will have an opportunity to come before the parole board once in fifteen years and every three years there after. WE FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT THE ONLY WAY TO ELIMINATE JLWOP IS THROUGH NATIONAL LEGISLATION. Currently, the bill IS retroactive, though that is the portion of the bill that victims are fighting most aggressively. The bill sponsors, John Conyers (MI) and Bobby Scott (VA) want 150 co-sponsors. So far they have three. We are asking that each one of you contact your state representative and ask them to co-sponsor HR-2289, Juvenile Justice and Accountability Act of 2009. We can’t successfully pass HR-2289 without grassroots help. Get politically active by getting involved and asking your family members and friends to get involved as well. You can find your congressman’s contact information by going to www.sentate.gov . You can also go to www.hr4300.com to read the bill, sign our petition and get more information on juvenile justice information. The rest of our time in DC was spent attending a conference that was hosted by the National Juvenile Justice Network. The speakers were very interesting, the workshops were very informative but the best of all was the strength and wisdom of all of the advocates that were gathered for this conference.
There is another interesting movement that is gaining momentum. The issue of wrongful conviction and false confessions in juvenile cases. The Center For Wrongful Convictions of Youth is currently gathering information from across the country concerning possible cases of wrongful conviction. All of us who advocate for juvenile justice reform have found common mistakes and problems in the prosecution and conviction of juvenile. Everything from violations of MIRANDA, to questionable practices of interrogation to constitutional rights violations. There are many estimates concerning the number of cases that have blatant violations but if we were to give an estimate I think you will find that the majority of juvenile cases are in violation of due process. If you or someone you know is a possible victim of wrongful conviction, please contact us at email@example.com and we will get you more information.
We continue to press forward to programs for education and rehabilitation inside of the prisons in Colorado. We are gaining momentum and support from the Department of Corrections and we have great assistance from Sterling Correction Facility. We have had great success with our scholarship program. It is a well-documented fact that prison violence and behavior infractions reduce significantly with a focus on education. It is also a well-documented fact that recidivism rates decline significantly in those former offenders who are educated and prepared for re-entry. We look forward to expanding our efforts.
Finally we regret to report that yet another juvenile offender was denied clemency. There are many constituents and law makers who are out raged that there has not been one single commutation granted by Governor Ritter. Many efforts have been made to identify criteria that the board requires in order for them to make a recommendation. Many attempts have been made to Gov. Ritter to help strengthen the opportunity for clemency on behalf of these offenders. There is no response and very little dialogue. It seems that Gov. Ritter has only created this clemency board as a stall tactic against further sentencing reform, justice reform and prison reform measures or policies. However, there are many who are ready to challenge the laws again and try and bring our state back into balance and reason.
Finally, as we look forward to the next several months, we want to encourage you. There are many on the national level who are proposing legislation and advocating for sweeping changes in our criminal justice and incarceration systems. For the first time in many years the words “reform and change” are at the forefront. We continue to press on.
Please help support our efforts by contributing to The Pendulum Foundation, please go to our web site www.pendulumfoundation.com and click on “donate.
Mary Ellen Johnson, Executive Director