Monday, November 23, 2009

Juvenile Injustice

Meet Qu’eed Batts. Batts was a Blood street gang member in 2006 when he was arrested, tried as an adult, and convicted of committing murder when he was just 14.

Just over a month ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review to Batts’ case on the juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) issue. At 17 he has been granted a petition to appeal, but his case won’t be seen until after the US Supreme Court decides on two Florida JLWOP cases, which take up the issue of whether or not sentencing children to life without the possibility of parole violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Batts' case is just one of many juvenile cases that make juvenile justice one of the hottest topics in civil liberties, which is why the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter's Public Education Committee devoted an entire series to bringing these issues to the community.

The series, which began on September 10th with a discussion on the problem of juvenile life sentencing was led by Martha Conley, ACLU of PA Greater Pittsburgh board member, chair of the Pittsburgh chapter of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, and associate producer of the film Lost in the Hype.

Pennsylvania has convicted more JLWOP than any other state in the US. Currently, PA host 444 prisoners who are serving life without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles. Of the 2,574 serving in 39 states throughout the US, 60% were first time offenders, according to a 2005 study by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Two of the main reasons PA disproportionately houses more JLWOP inmates are:
  1. A 1995 law that requires juveniles charged of serious crimes to bypass the juvenile courts and first be seen in adult courts. Reasoning being: “adult crimes deserve adult time”; however a growing body of medical research shows incomplete brain development, especially in the areas controlling impulse, planning, judgment, and foresight of consequences, in youth and young adults up to age 21.
  2. Unlike other states, only the governor may grant clemency to anyone with the life without parole sentence, including children.

As for the public’s view, a February 2007 National Counsel on Crime and Delinquency study found that 89% of respondents believed rehabilitation services and treatment can prevent youth who have committed crimes from committing future crime. For more information regarding future Greater Pittsburgh Chapter discussion series, visit

More information on juvenile life sentencing can be found here or here.

Kristine in Pittsburgh

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