As part of the United States Department of Justice investigation into the pattern and practice of the Chicago Police Department, the DOJ held public forums and welcomed feedback from community members. Several CIC Summer 2016 interns attended the forums as well as wrote letters to the Justice Department with suggestions on how to rectify police and prosecutorial misconduct in Cook County.
Dear Justice Department.
I am writing to express my concern for the juveniles who are sentenced in adult court. I am fully aware that Gov. Rauner signed a measure into law that will ensure that some juveniles will have their cases heard in front of a juvenile court judge before deciding to send the youth to adult court. What I am concerned with is the mental state and emotional stress a juvenile has when he/she is sentenced in an adult court that ultimately send them into an adult prison.
Some facts about juveniles who face life sentences are:
The majority of sentences to life without parole for youth have been imposed in states where judges are obligated to impose it as a mandatory sentence, without consideration of any factors relating to a child’s age or life circumstances.
More than 25% of people serving life without parole after being sentenced as children were convicted of felony murder or accomplice liability, meaning they were not the primary perpetrators of the crime, and may not have even been present at the time someone was killed.
Children sentence to life in prison without parole are often the most vulnerable members of our society. Nearly 80 percent of juvenile lifers reported witnessing violence in their homes; more than half (54.1%) witnessed weekly violence in their neighborhoods.
African American youth are sentenced to life without parole as children at a per capita rate that is 10 times that of White youth.
80 percent of girls and nearly half of all children sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole have been physically abused.
77 percent of girls and 20 percent of all youth lifers said they have been sexually abused.
These facts were represented by: The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.
Considering these facts alone it is impossible to not take into consideration how the trauma juveniles have faced in their past did not affect their mental state at the time their crime was committed. I say this not to condone their crime, but instead to offer
a perspective on why it was committed and how these children need be counseled and heard in order to help them rather than locking them up for life before they even obtain one. If I could make a suggestion that would provide closure to juveniles before they face their punishment, it would be to have regular counseling appointments between a licensed clinical psychologist and the youth who facing a jail sentence. To have someone to talk to about your problems who is not your lawyer and who is trained to provide advice would help tremendously in the growth of a child who has faced so many troubled situations.
Intern at the Chicago Innocence Center