The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development at their December 2012 meeting joined a national campaign working to end the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“While there is no question that violent and dangerous youth need to be confined for their safety and that of society, the USCCB does not support provisions that treat children as though they are equal to adults in their moral and cognitive development,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the committee. “Life sentences without parole eliminate the opportunity for rehabilitation or second chances.”
The bishops have observed for more than a decade that “[p]lacing children in adult jails is a sign of failure, not a solution.” They joined more than 100 organizations that have endorsed the Statement of Principles of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. Supporters also include groups representing law enforcement officials, victims’ families, mental health experts, parents, teachers and child welfare advocates.
Across the United States, thousands of children have been sentenced as adults and sent to adult prisons. Nearly 3000 nationwide have been sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Children as young as 13 years old have been tried as adults and sentenced to die in prison, typically without any consideration of their age or circumstances of the offense.
On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court issued an historic ruling in Miller v. Alabamaholding that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger convicted of homicide are unconstitutional. The Court did not ban all juvenile life-without-parole sentences, but wrote that requiring sentencers to consider “children’s diminished culpability, and heightened capacity for change” should make such sentences “uncommon.”