Target: Barack Obama, President of the United States
Goal: Eliminate unfair and harmful life without parole sentences for youth.
America is the last remaining country in the world that hands down life sentences with no chance of parole to youth offenders, according to a recent statement by the United Nations. While the Supreme Court has declared such sentences unconstitutional, judges at a state level are still allowed to hand down mandatory life sentences depending on the circumstance. Currently, around 2,500 prisoners in the United States are serving life sentences without the chance of parole for crimes they committed as youths.
These life without parole sentences fail to take into account key differences in the psychology of youth as opposed to regular adults. For example, young people are more prone to making rash, impulsive decisions due to immaturity and an inability to assess the risk and possible consequences. Typically, youth have a greater chance of being rehabilitated than those who offend later in life.
Experts say that life sentences can have a disproportionately harsh effect on the mental health and development of youth. According to child psychologists, prolonged stress, isolation, and boredom can have detrimental effects on developing brains, causing depression and anxiety disorders, and sometimes exacerbating preexisting issues such as schizophrenia. Studies have revealed a significant link between the time incarcerated and the severity of mental health issues in youth, concluding that shorter sentences are more beneficial to the health of inmates.
The primary role of the prison system is to rehabilitate inmates and give them the skills to successfully reintegrate into society. These unnecessarily harsh life sentences are contrary to the purpose of incarceration, and are proving more harmful than helpful. Sign the petition below to demand that the United States outlaw all life without parole sentences for youth offenders.
Dear President Barack Obama,
The United States is the only country in the world still handing down harsh life without parole sentences to youth offenders. Currently, around 2,500 people are serving life sentences in American prisons for crimes they committed as youths, with over half of these having no prior criminal record at the time of conviction.
Several studies have shown that youth are at greater risk of developing mental health issues when imprisoned, particularly those imprisoned for extended periods of time. As the primary role of prison is rehabilitation, it is important to give these youths a proper chance at creating a successful life. We, the undersigned, ask that you immediately ban life sentences without parole for youth offenders in America.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Public Domain via US Federal Government