What’s the Meaning of “Life” When Sentencing Kids?

Eli Hager, Slate •

“It really is a philosophical question,” said Marsha Levick, chief legal officer at the Juvenile Law Center, an advocacy group. “These are children who entered prison before having finished high school, who never got a chance to achieve maturity, to have relationships, have a family, a career. Does releasing them at 70 or 80 or 90 years old, when they are geriatric, really give them that second chance at an actual life?”

Some courts have proposed what youth advocates find to be an equally unacceptable alternative: setting the age for releasing juveniles at when people in the U.S. typically retire.

“But wait a second, people retire at 65 after living a full, productive, healthy life—that’s a fundamentally different life,” Levick said. “A long sentence is actually longer for someone who goes into prison at age 15—who hasn’t yet lived an adult life at all—than it is for someone who goes in at 35.”

About the Expert

Marsha Levick co-founded Juvenile Law Center in 1975. Throughout her legal career, Levick has been an advocate for children’s and women's rights and is a nationally recognized expert in juvenile law.

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