The Daily Evergreen

Life can mean death for America’s youth

Josh Babcock | Evergreen columnist

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Even though juvenile life sentences have been ruled unconstitutional, many of America’s youngest criminals, like 14-year-old Shimeek Gridine, will never see the outside of the prisons where they reside.

With states trying to undermine the Supreme Court’s ruling, many more of America’s youth will likely be subject to harsh sentences and punishments that do not fit the crime they committed.

In June of 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that sentencing a juvenile to life in prison without parole was unconstitutional no matter what the crime.

According to a report by NPR, the parts of the brain that deal with decision-making are not developed until the age of 25. How can we hold teens to such a high standard of accountability when the mistakes they’ve made were with a brain that was less developed than that of a full grown adult’s?

Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling states have found ways to sidestep the fine line between what is a fair and unfair. Not only are states continuing to give ‘life’ sentences but they have yet to retry juveniles who were given official life sentences in the previous years.

The Supreme Court needs to take their ruling a step further and include a reasonable sentence for juveniles to ensure that states are not continuing to find loopholes in legislation. By doing so, these kids will gain another opportunity at life.

The Supreme Court’s decision to do so would give minors an opportunity to better themselves, and if this country establishes a national law instead of looking at this as a specific state-by-state scenario, we will see this to be true.

In 2011 Cristian Fernandez, a 12-year-old Florida boy, was tried as an adult and charged with first degree murder after causing inadvertent head trauma to his two-year-old brother while play fighting, according to the Huffington Post.

Luckily for Fernandez, the court prosecuted him as a juvenile, and now as a teen, he will have a second chance at life.

Cristian Fernandez’s story ended brighter than most of America’s juveniles, rather than the Supreme Court’s ruling protecting America’s youngest offenders, the court has simply placed their lives in the state’s hands and most are not as lucky.

In 2009, just two years before Fernandez was charged, 14-year-old Shimeek Gridine attempted to shoot and rob a man in Jacksonville, Fla. Gridine shot at the man but only grazed him, according to the New York Times.

Although the man was not seriously injured, Gridine was tried as an adult and sentenced to 70 years in prison without parole, meaning Shimeek would be an 84-year-old man by the time he gets out.

While some states have chosen to open previous juvenile cases that ended with life sentences, others have not.

It’s unfortunate to think that Gridine is just at the top of a long list of youths that will spend the rest of their years rotting in a prison cell when every day people commit far worse infractions.

The Supreme Court’s ruling sheds light on the problems juveniles face in a justice system organized by and for adults.

It is unconstitutional for juveniles to be given mandatory life sentences without parole based on their lack of brain development, decision making skills and knowledge between what is right and wrong.

While life sentences have been banned by the Supreme Court, kids will continue to spend eternity incarcerated based on the errors they made at an early age.

No one should spend 70 years paying for a mistake they made when they were 12. It is time we realize the true injustice happening in this country and fix the wrongs that have been done.

– Josh Babcock is a senior communication major from Pullman. He can be contacted at 335-2290 or by [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of Student Publications.

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Life can mean death for America’s youth