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Teenagers in prison

Posted Nov 16 2009 10:00pm

While this is not a topic that is terribly related to adolescent sexuality, it is one that is receiving a lot of attention recently.

One week ago the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether sentencing a juvenile - someone under 18 years old - to life in prison without the possibility of parole is cruel and unusual punishment.  In Roper vs. Simmons in 2005 the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to impose the death sentence for a crime committed when a person is under the age of 18.

This New York Times Op-Ed piece argues that too many teenagers do not have sufficient emotional and brain development to be, in effect, written-off as unchanging and unchangeable.  It’s an effective argument.  It is also important for parents to understand that their teenagers - even the ones who seem like they have developed so much by the time they are 16, 17, and 18, still have years of brain development ahead of them.

Below is a video about a young woman in California - currently 29 - who was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole when she was 16.  It is deeply moving, and well worth watching.  Our legal system does not respond to or address teenagers as effectively as we could - as effectively as we should - as effectively as we must.  We are loosing potentially active participants in our civic society, needlessly conscripting an individual’s life to very narrow confines, and frankly, wasting a lot of money, by relegating these young people to a life in prison.

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