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A Second Chance for Juvenile Offenders

In Pennsylvania, 470 people are serving mandatory life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles. That’s more than any other state, according to a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.

Fortunately, these inmates may get their sentences reduced due to the United States Supreme Court’s recent ruling that mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment.

Prior to this ruling, the United States was the only country in the world that regularly applied life without parole for offenses committed before the age of 18, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

We strongly support the high court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama, and here’s why:

In recent years, medical research has shown that teenagers’ brains are not fully developed as compared to adults. Specifically, the frontal lobes are not fully connected, which often results in poor decision-making – as any parent of teenagers can attest.

As a result, juveniles are “more likely to act on impulse, more likely to misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions, and less likely think twice, change their mind, or pause to consider the consequences of their actions,” according to Dr. David Fassler, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont.

The Supreme Court’s ruling is supported by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Psychiatric Association. These mental health organizations maintain that people who committed crimes as juveniles have an enhanced possibility of rehabilitation.

It is understandable that many victims of Pennsylvania’s 470 inmates oppose Miller v. Alabama, as it may result in the release of their perpetrators back into society. But we believe that, where possible, our criminal justice system should emphasize rehabilitation over retribution.