Nicholas Kristof’s presentation (at Fort Lewis College) was a circular dance around tragic human rights issues that exist globally. On the periphery was mine. My son was sentenced as a child to die in prison.
Kristof spoke of the “empathy gap.” I embraced it. Perhaps I have not taken the time to investigate the circumstances of another’s situation before I enlist my opinions and judgments. So I pledged to be a better listener, more observant and empathetic.
What happened? A now-debunked theory occurred in the ’80s; society should expect the juvenile super-predator to emerge. States responded by enacting “mandatory” sentencing schemes: death by execution, or juvenile life in prison without parole.
The theory never materialized. The schemes did; 2,500 were sentenced. These schemes didn’t consider mitigating circumstances toward other possible sentences. I advocate to replace these bad laws with age-appropriate sentencing for children. After four U.S. Supreme Court rulings, one that made it unconstitutional to execute children, the majority concluded that juvenile life without parole was only appropriate for “the rare child who is irreparably corrupt.” It ordered an opportunity for review of the 2,500.
Many received the same sentence again or de-facto life sentences (40+ years). Others received opportunities for parole. Some have been released.
There is no common standard among states that determines who is incorrigible, no matter what the adult child’s prison record exhibits. Kristof said that both legislative parties have failed us for decades. We can’t have empathy for what we are unaware of.