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Imprisoning a child for life

November 10, 2009

….The rush to try more and more children as adults began in the 1980s
when the country was gripped by hysteria about an adolescent crime wave
that never materialized. Joe Sullivan, the petitioner in Sullivan v.
Florida, was sentenced to life without parole in 1989 — when he was
just 13 — after a questionable sexual battery conviction. His two older
accomplices testified against the younger, mentally impaired boy. They
received short sentences, one of them as a juvenile.

The case
of Terrance Graham has similar contours. A learning disabled child —
born to crack-addicted parents — Mr. Graham was on probation in
connection with a burglary committed when he was 16 when he
participated in a home invasion. He, too, had older accomplices. He was
never convicted of the actual crime but was given life without parole
for violating the conditions of his probation.

These were two
very troubled children in need of adult supervision and perhaps even
time behind bars. But it is insupportable to conclude, as the courts
did, that children who committed crimes when they were so young were
beyond rehabilitation. The laws under which they were convicted violate
current human rights standards and the Constitution.


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