Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Should This Happen Here?

Number of people in the United States convicted as minors serving life sentences without the possibility of parole: 2,225

Number in the rest of the world: 12

The practice of sentencing minors to life in prison without the possibility of parole is prohibited by the Constitution on the Rights of the Child which has been ratified by every country in the world except The United States of America and Somalia.

For more information, you can visit the Human Rights Watch website by clicking here.


Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Wow! Thanks for posting this, Gil. I have to admit that I haven't gotten too involved in this or all the other injustices of our prison system because I have wanted to concentrate on abolishing the death penalty. What to do with LIVING prisoners has been shoved to the back of my mind. I clearly need to repent. Thanks for providing material for my spiritual growth.

Eric said...

Wow, that is certainly a startling statistic. However, I submit to you that it might not be so much a commentary on our judicial system as it is on our society.

Less affluent societies are not plagued by these problems. It is generally true that affluent societies have more problems with some types of crime (think of the "spoiled little rich kid" cliche). But this could also be spilling over into more violent crimes as those who see themselves as underpriviledged try to keep up and bridge the widening gap between have and have-not. Think back to the story of the kid who got killed over his expensive, celebrity-endorsed sneakers for an example.

My point is that as tragic as the statistic is, it may also be true that we really do have more juveniles committing truely heinous crimes than the rest of the world. Are the parole boards really capable of determining the rehabilitation of any prisoner, much less that of someone so young? Perhaps a good start would be to stop the practice of sentencing juvenile offenders to adult prison, but also ending the practice of sealing their conviction records. That way, crimes committed by a convicted juvenile offender after age 18 don't get handled the same as a first-time offender.

It doesn't really bother me that much to live in a country that hasn't signed on to some UN manifesto. After all, we're talking about the same organization that thinks it a wonderful thing that Sudan signed the firearms treaty prohibiting weapons ownership by "non-governmental agents." The treaty played right into the hands of the Sudanese government by making sure that they were the only source of legal weapons. The treaty also required severe criminal penalties for those breaking the weapons law, another item that Khartoum was only too happy to ratify.

If the Constitution on the Rights of the Child had any significance at all in actually changing the lives of children, you can bet that the list of non-ratifying countries would be longer. The impact to countries like the Phillipines or Malaysia, where the exploitation of children is an everyday business venture, would be significant.

I feel the United States generally does a good job of guarding the welfare of its children. I also believe that many of the UN treaties that go unratified by the United States have more to do with US politics and sovereignty than the treaty itself, so I just can't get that worked up about it.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

The U.S. refusal to sign the Convention on the Rights of the Child came during the Reagan era and was based on 2 things: A desire to keep executing people for crimes committed at 17 (now ruled unconstitutional) and a desire to continue to recruit 17 year olds into the military.

If you, eric, truly think the U.S. does well by our children, I invite you to deeply examine the website of the Children's Defense Fund. Then we'll talk.

Gil, please email me at

Eric said...

I truly do think that the US does well by our children. I went to the CDF web site. I found an organization that seeks to improve the education, health care, and quality of life for all children in the United States through a combination of secular and faith-based initiatives. Nothing wrong with that at all. It proves that we are a people who are always seeking to improve conditions for those who need a hand.

I think, based on the perceived tone of your comment, that you're reading far more into my statements that is actually there. If you think that I somehow have a picture of life being rosy for every child in the US, I don't. We could certainly do more for our children - and the rest of our society - by providing better health coverage, day care assistance for families where all the adults work (or better still, the ability for a single adult to earn an actual, living wage instead of just enough to make them "working poor"), and real, substantive protection from abuse.

But at the same time, one statistic on the criminal justice system does nothing to give the big picture - that even those in poverty in the US are among the wealthiest people in the world, with a standard of living that eclipses most of those nations that signed on to the afore-mentioned UN charter. Our children have access to education, across the board. At most, it costs a few dollars per year, and the schools have assistance available for those who can't pay. It's certainly not the Ivy League, but it's among the best in the world. Our children don't work their lives away in factories, as they often do in Asia and used to do at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the US. Our children have the benefit of programs established to help them, and even if those programs aren't the way we wish them to be (e.g., foster care), it's a lot more than they have in most other countries.

The glass certainly isn't full, but I don't see it as being half-empty.