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Sunday, December 26, 2010

New York Says" Put Juveniles back In The Juvenile System"

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Tuesday. The mayor called the juvenile prison system costly and ineffective.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Tuesday that he would ask New York State to turn over control of prisons and services for juvenile offenders to local governments, a move that he said would end the failed and costly practice of shipping troubled young people from New York City to upstate facilities far from their families.

Mr. Bloomberg also said that he planned to pursue changes to state law that would allow the rapid closing of large detention centers that are mostly empty but fully staffed.

He said that keeping children close to home and in the least restrictive setting that is appropriate would help reduce the “entirely unacceptable” recidivism rates: 81 percent of boys in the system return within three years of their release.

“This turnstile kind of in-and-out does not serve anybody,” the mayor said during a news conference at City Hall. “It keeps us less safe than we need to be. It is phenomenally costly, and it certainly doesn’t do anything to help people get their lives back on track.”

The state’s troubled juvenile justice system has been under siege of late.

Last year, a state task force reported that young people battling addiction or mental illness received little counseling and were often abused by violent offenders. In July, the state agreed to place four of its most dangerous youth prisons under federal oversight.

But Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal will most likely face resistance. For upstate lawmakers, the juvenile prisons represent well-paying jobs in struggling areas. The union for most of those workers, the New York State Public Employees Federation, successfully advocated for a change to state law in 2006 that required a year’s notice before facilities could be closed. A union spokeswoman said Tuesday that the union would oppose Mr. Bloomberg’s request for that law to be thrown out.

One state official said the mayor’s proposal for returning offenders to the city could drain money from the programs for juvenile offenders elsewhere in the state, leaving them without resources for detention and services. About 60 percent of the young people incarcerated are from New York City.

“We would have to send upstate kids downstate,” said the official, who would speak only anonymously because he did not know what position Governor-elect Andrew M. Cuomo would take on the matter. “We don’t want to create unintended consequences.”

Leaders in the State Senate and the Assembly said they had not yet seen the proposals and could not comment.

But recent struggles on related issues suggest that the mayor could face opposition in Albany. During the last legislative session, Gov. David A. Paterson proposed rescinding the state law that requires 12 months’ notification before closing facilities, even when they are empty. But the Legislature did not act.

And Dean G. Skelos, the State Senate Republican leader, recently told the Newsday editorial board that prisons should not be closed without a plan in place to provide jobs within the community.

Mr. Bloomberg said he had not yet spoken with Mr. Cuomo about the proposal. A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo declined to comment.

During his campaign, Mr. Cuomo released a plan for improving the juvenile justice system and consolidating additional underused prisons. He recently toured the Tryon Residential Center for Boys in Johnstown to highlight what he views as wasteful spending there.

Sixteen state juvenile prisons have been closed since 2007 by the Office of Children and Family Services. Two others are scheduled to close in January.

The state bills local governments for half of the cost of incarcerating children from their areas. Last year, for an average daily headcount of 569 offenders, the city was billed nearly $62 million, the mayor said.

Even though headcounts have dropped by two-thirds over the last decade, the total amount the city pays has increased because the per diem rates charged by the state include the costs of maintaining and staffing largely empty facilities. The mayor’s proposal, reported in The Daily News on Tuesday, also seeks a change to the rate structure.

Of the 25 facilities, 13 are more than half-empty. Last month, the city filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the state from charging it to maintain and staff underused facilities.

On Tuesday, the mayor promoted two city-run programs for young offenders that he said had shown low rates of recidivism and helped children return to their homes through intensive supervision and therapy.

“New York City has shown how to do far better ourselves,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “We have produced consistently better outcomes for young people in the juvenile justice system, far more cost-effectively.”

In a lawsuit filed last year, the Legal Aid Society contended that children in the state facilities were being physically restrained in inappropriate ways and that they were not receiving sufficient services.

Tamara Steckler, who leads the Legal Aid Society’s juvenile rights division, said the organization would support the mayor’s proposal.

“It makes sense at this point,” she said, “when New York City is willing to take this kid back within its own jurisdiction.”

A version of this article appeared in print on December 22, 2010, on page A26 of the New York edition.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

In memory Of The Young Adults Executed In The Us

( Note Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, 22 people have been executed for crimes committed while they were under the age of 18.)

List of juvenile offenders executed in the United States
This is a list of juvenile offenders executed in the United States. This list consists of those people executed in the United States for crimes committed while they were juveniles (before reaching the age of majority). Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, 22 people have been executed for crimes committed while they were under the age of 18. All of the 22 executed individuals were males. Twenty-one of them were age 17 when the crime occurred; one,
Sean Sellers (executed on February 4, 1999, in Oklahoma), was 16 years old at the time of his crime..

Since 1642, (in the Thirteen Colonies, the United States under the Articles of Confederation, and the current United States), an estimated 364 juvenile offenders have been put to death by states and the federal government. Twenty-two of those executions occurred after 1976. Due to the slow process of appeals since 1976, it has been highly unusual for a condemned person to actually be under the age of 18 at the time of execution. The youngest person to be executed in the 20th century was George Stinney, electrocuted in South Carolina at the age of fourteen on June 16, 1944. The youngest person ever to be sentenced to death in the United States was James Arcene, for his role in a robbery and murder committed when he was ten years old. He was, however, 23-years-old when he was actually executed on June 18, 1885.[1] The last execution of a juvenile may have been convicted murderer Leonard Shockley, who died in the Maryland gas chamber on April 10, 1959, at the age of 17. No one has been under the age of 19 at the time of execution since at least 1964.[2][3]

After the Supreme Court's 2005 decision in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), the minimum age at time of crime to be subject to the death penalty is 18, thereby ending execution as a punishment for juvenile offenders. At the time of the Roper v. Simmons decision, there were 71 juvenile offenders awaiting execution on death row: 13 in Alabama; four in Arizona; three in Florida; two in Georgia; four in Louisiana; five in Mississippi; one in Nevada; four in North Carolina; two in Pennsylvania; three in South Carolina; 29 in Texas; and one in Virginia.
* NOTE The age when they died Is in The brackets() & The age they were at the time of the offense*

(1)September 11, 1985 Rumbaugh, Charles Francis Rumbaugh (28) 17 White Male Texas Lethal injection

(2)> January 10, 1986 James Terry Roach (25) 17 White Male South Carolina Electrocution

(3) 5May 15, 1986 Pinkerton, Jay Kelly (24) 17 White Male Texas Lethal injectio

(4) 05-18 1990 Prejean, Dalton " Prejean (30) 17 Black Male Louisiana Electrocution

(5) February 11, 1992 Johnny Frank Garrett (28) 17 White Male Texas Lethal injection

6)July 1, 1993 Curtis Paul Harris (31) 17 Black Male Texas Lethal injection

(7) 07-28July 28, 1993 Frederick Lasley (29) 17 Black Male Missouri Lethal injection

(8) August 24, 1993 Ruben Montoya Cantu (26) 17 Latino Male Texas Lethal injection

(9 December 7, 1993 Christopher Burger (33) 17 White Male Georgia

(10 )April 24, 1998 Joseph John Cannon (38 )17 White Male Texas Lethal injection

(11) May 18, 1998 Robert Anthony Carter (34) 17 Black Male Texas Lethal injection

(12) October 14, 1998 Dwayne Allen Wright (24) 17 Black Male Virginia Lethal injection
(13) February 4, 1999 Sellers,Sean Richard Sellers (29) 16 White Male Oklahoma Lethal injection

(14) January 10, 2000 Thomas, Douglas Christopher Thomas (26) 17 White Male Virginia Lethal injection

(15) January 13, 2000 Roach,Steve Edward Roach (23) 17 White Male Virginia Lethal injection

(16) January 25, 2000 McGinnis,Glen Charles McGinnis (27) 17 Black Male Texas Lethal injection

(17) June 22, 2000 Graham, Gary LeeGary Lee Graham (36 )17 Black Male Texas Lethal injection

(18) October 22, 2001 Mitchell,Gerald Lee Mitchell (33) 17 Black Male Texas Lethal injection

(19) May 28, 2002 Beazley, Napoleon Beazley (25) 17 Black Male Texas Lethal injection

(20) August 8, 2002 Jones, T. J. Jones (25) 17 Black Male Texas Lethal injection

(21) August 28, 2002 Toronto Markkey Patterson ( 24 ) 17 Black Male Texas Lethal injection

(22) April 3, 2003 Hain, Scott Allen Hain (32) 17 White Male Oklahoma Lethal injection

Retrieved from ""

Monday, December 6, 2010

12 And In Prison

12 and in Prison
Published: July 27, 2009
The Supreme Court sent an important message when it ruled in Roper v. Simmons in 2005 that children under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed were not eligible for the death penalty. Justice Anthony Kennedy drew on compassion, common sense and the science of the youthful brain when he wrote that it was morally wrong to equate the offenses of emotionally undeveloped adolescents with the offenses of fully formed adults.

*The states have followed this logic in death penalty cases. But they have continued to mete out barbaric treatment — including life sentences — to children whose cases should rightly be handled through the juvenile courts.

Congress can help to correct these practices by amending the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, which is up for Congressional reauthorization this year. To get a share of delinquency prevention money, the law requires the states and localities to meet minimum federal protections for youths in the justice system. These protections are intended to keep as many youths as possible out of adult jails and prisons, and to segregate those that are sent to those places from the adult criminal population.

The case for tougher legislative action is laid out in an alarming new study of children 13 and under in the adult criminal justice system, the lead author of which is the juvenile justice scholar, Michele Deitch, of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. According to the study, every state allows juveniles to be tried as adults, and more than 20 states permit preadolescent children as young as 7 to be tried in adult courts.

This is terrible public policy. Children who are convicted and sentenced as adults are much more likely to become violent offenders — and to return to an adult jail later on — than children tried in the juvenile justice system.

Despite these well-known risks, policy makers across the country do not have reliable data on just how many children are being shunted into the adult system by state statutes or prosecutors, who have the discretion to file cases in the adult courts.

But there is reasonably reliable data showing juvenile court judges send about 80 children ages 13 and under into the adult courts each year. These statistics explode the myth that those children have committed especially heinous acts.

The data suggest, for example, that children 13 and under who commit crimes like burglary and theft are just as likely to be sent to adult courts as children who commit serious acts of violence against people. As has been shown in previous studies, minority defendants are more likely to get adult treatment than their white counterparts who commit comparable offenses.

The study’s authors rightly call on lawmakers to enact laws that discourage harsh sentencing for preadolescent children and that enable them to be transferred back into the juvenile system. Beyond that, Congress (Should? Yet they have done nothing) amend the juvenile justice act to require the states to simply end these inhumane practices to be eligible for federal juvenile justice funds.> (NOTE) California has received Millions from the Federal Government for Juveniles & Programs> & Still are pushing more & more into Prison* " Gelly"


Police / Prosecution Misconduct

There are occasions where either police or prosecution misconduct are the cause of a person or persons spending large amounts of time in prison for crimes they have not committed.

Police and prosecution culture in Western Australia has been widely criticised throughout Australia after a number of cases revealed that some police and or prosecutors had acted improperly in a number of high profile cases which were eventually overturned ;after it had been found that police and prosecutors had acted improperly in order to sustain a conviction.

Misconduct can assume many forms such as:

Prosecution material non-disclosure: By law the prosecution has to provide the accused with all materials that are relevant to the case. This includes evidence that may help prove the accused innocence.

Material non-disclosure is when the prosecution fails to give the accused evidence which would assist in their defence. This does not allow the jury to consider the evidence which may be favourable to the accused and can mislead juries into believing that an accused is guilty when there is evidence to establish he or she is not.

Police misconduct and overzealous investigations
Over-zealous police conduct is recognised as a major contributing factor leading to miscarriages of justice.

Some examples of what kind of conduct this would include is police officers deliberately distorting a witness’s statement to suit prosecutions hypothesis, coercing a confession from a suspect, and ignoring or destroying evidence that helps to establish the accused is innocent.

It seems that the police and prosecutors that engage in this type of behaviour often appear to engage in such conduct because they strongly believe the suspect is guilty *

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Martin is a Juvenile and Mexican Citizen on Arizona's Death Row

. Martin is a Juvenile and Mexican Citizen on Arizona's Death Row, for more information on his case
visit his webpage at:

Martin R. Soto-Fong #103247
Arizona State Prison - Eyman
PO Box 3400
Florence, Arizona 85232

Christopher 17 And Sentenced To Arizona's Death Row

Arizona's attempt to censor websites of prisoner advocacy groups like ours, we have committed to ensuring all Arizona Death Row prisoners have a voice on the internet and the opportunity to be contacted by human rights groups and activists. Let Arizona's condemned prisoners know they have not been forgotten, with your words of encouragement and support. Christopher Huerstel was only 17 years of age at the time of the crime which landed him on death row, for more information on his case visit his webpage at:
Please write to:

Christopher Huerstel #157704
Arizona State Prison - Eyman
PO Box 3400
Florence, Arizona 85232

17 And Sentenced To Arizona's Death Row

Arizona's attempt to censor websites of prisoner advocacy groups like ours, we have committed to ensuring all Arizona Death Row prisoners have a voice on the internet and the opportunity to be contacted by human rights groups and activists. Let Arizona's condemned prisoners know they have not been forgotten, with your words of encouragement and support. Christopher Huerstel was only 17 years of age at the time of the crime which landed him on death row, for more information on his case visit his webpage at:
Please write to:

Christopher Huerstel #157704
Arizona State Prison - Eyman
PO Box 3400
Florence, Arizona 85232

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Critics time after time protest that the juvenile waiver system is neither fair nor consistently administered. The vast majority of evidence on this topic supports the protests of these critics. To begin, there are two ways to decide whether or not a juvenile should be waived into adult court. In accordance with a criminal court point of view, punishment is the main concern, the seriousness of the offense and length of the offender's record then decides whether or not they are waived into adult court. When taking the view point of the juvenile court that rehabilitation is the main objective then the offender's amenability to treatment, dangerousness, and future welfare are taken into consideration as to waiving them into adult court. Those in favor of the juvenile court claim that the juvenile court is consistent with the sentencing philosophy of that particular court and that individualized treatments provide a suitable balance of flexibility and severity. For those who agree with the criminal court, the argument is that the juvenile court lacks valid and reliable clinical tools to assess amenability to treat or to predict potential danger. They also bring attention to the abuses that could arise when a judge uses discretion as to which youths will be waived and which shall not.

When deciding whether a juvenile should be waived a judge will usually look at the offender's age, amount of time left for treatment, clinical evaluations of treatment prognosis, probation officer statements, the need to protect the community, whether the offense was committed against a person or property, and threat to others reflected in the seriousness of the current offense and prior record before deciding whether or not to waive him or her through to the adult system (Podkopacz & Feld, 1996). Psychologists will evaluate offenders based on age of onset of serious violent offending and of delinquent behavior, truancy, experiences with physical or sexual abuse, exposure to domestic violence or violence in the community, network of social support, presence of non-violent role model, school performance, and willingness to rehabilitate; these findings are then sent to the court to assist the judge in deciding whether or not to waive a juvenile into adult court (Gelles, 1997). The main concern critics of the waiver system have is the problematic and controversial way in which judges will decide which juveniles should be waived and which should not. (NOTE) When The Prosecutor
has the ability to direct file, the juvenile judges do not hear or decide a juveniles fate in court. )
youths are cognitively and emotionally less mature than adults, they tend to live for the moment and are characterized by showing poor judgment, having the attitude of invincibility, having difficulty thinking of the long-term consequences of their actions, and being easily influenced by peers (American, 2000). This is the main reason why, in 1988 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Thomson v. Oklahoma that the 8th amendment prohibited the execution of persons under the age of 16 at the time the offense was committed. However, "the United States remains the only country in the world that has not yet ratified the UN Convention, Articl e 37a, which states that 'Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offenses committed by persons below eighteen years of age'" (Juvenile, 2005). When a juvenile enters an adult hearing they are less able to exercise their rights and to understand the court proceedings. While in an adult correctional facility they are routinely denied educational opportunities and are subject to abuse. However, juveniles are kept in a different part of the correctional facility while they are still a minor. An adult sentence is viewed as disproportionately harsh destroying the adolescent years of a young person's life and in some cases their prospects of a life after prison.
*Youths who do emerge from an adult correctional facility at a reasonably young age have had the opportunity to not only be exposed to career criminals but to learn from them and better their own skills in order to become more successful career criminals themselves (Podkopacz & Feld, 1996)
*The option to waive juveniles into adult court should not be eliminated from the juvenile court system. However, it should be modified. Just like prison is the last resort to deal with crime, waiver should be the last resort to deal with juvenile delinquency and status offenders. Considering the wide range of placement options, including training schools, ranches and camps, halfway houses, and shelters, judges should only have to waive juveniles into adult court in the most serious of cases (Levit, 1998).
("blended sentencing" practice that was first attempted by Minnesota. With this system, the juvenile stays in the juvenile court system but along with his juvenile sentence he also receives a criminal court sentence. Upon failure to adhere to the rules of the juvenile sentence the criminal sentence is automatically instated (Podkopacz & Feld, 2001). This is the best alternative to the waiver system because in the end it achieves the same goal but in a much more focused fashion. With this method, juveniles who would have benefited by the ordinary juvenile sentence still do, when they complete the steps of their juvenile sentence after an evaluation the criminal sentence is dropped and they exit the juvenile system. For juveniles who need a longer or more severe sentence than the juvenile system can provide they either violate some aspect of their juvenile sentence and thus have to carry out their criminal sentence or after completion of the juvenile sentence are evaluated and then given their criminal sentence to complete after the evaluation shows that they are not yet rehabilitated. Juveniles, who may have defaulted on a juvenile sentence, if they had received it without the criminal sentence, may think twice before doing so, when they know that a tougher criminal sentence is waiting for them. This waiver alternative can be viewed as a middle step between the juvenile court and the adult court, having this middle step available to the judge will help more juveniles be properly placed in a treatment program that is going to actually help them. This system also gives the juvenile all the procedural rights guaranteed to adults and thus results in more juveniles being properly represented throughout their journey through the correctional system.

The waiver system is neither fair nor consistent and is applied on the discretion of the prosecutor and judge handling the case. Some judges view waiver as a last resort while other judges view waiver has the best possible way to deal with a trouble making juvenile. Personal bias also comes into play when a judge decides to waive a juvenile into the adult court. Since the main objective of the adult correctional system is incapacitation and the main objective of the juvenile correctional system is rehabilitation
This option should exist, but only should be used in the most extreme of circumstances. Such as when the juvenile's or public's safety is in immediate damage, or when the youth is so far from reach that a rehabilitation program would foster absolutely no results.

Juvenile and Adult Courts: A Comparative Analysis

There are critics of the juvenile system who feel that all cases regardless of age should be

dealt with in the adult criminal courts. This would mean complete abolishment of the juvenile

court system. (Criminal Justice Magazine)The talk about abolishing delinquency, as well as the

juvenile court system has people split. The problem exists because both sides cannot agree

on what the actual problem is. Some people are prone to believe that the solution lies

within the abolishment of the juvenile courts. The other people believe that the solution is to

abolish juvenile delinquency. However this is far easier said than done. (Criminal Justice

Magazine) The problem is more complex than people realize.

The problem with the idea of abolishing the juvenile court system is that it would be a long

drawn out process. This would severely impede justice from being served in a timely manner.

If society decides as whole to transition all of the juvenile cases to the adult or "criminal"

court, there needs to be an intricate replacement plan in place. There would be complete

chaos in the judicial system if there were no replacement plan intact. This would include

having a unified system. The former juvenile judges would need to step into deal with the now

criminal cases. The enormous transition to abolish all juvenile cases would create a large influx

of adult correctional needs. The need for more probation and parole officers, and

correctional facilities would become an emergent need. The truth of the matter is that

juveniles are currently best served under their own court system.

While the thought of this being a simple and imperative transition is a noble idea on paper, it

would actually be a complex and cumbersome solution. This transition would not happen in a

short period of time. It would not address the real issue at stake. The real issue is allowing

the judges to "quickly and decisively intervene" in these juvenile cases. (Criminal Justice

Magazine) This is important is because juveniles must be held accountable for their actions. It

is imperative that they are not prosecuted in a wrongful manner.
JANESVILLE — Rock County teen looking to get high lose his life to a pocket full of painkillers?

Brown, 14, admitted the deed in court Thursday. She will spend five years in the custody of the state, up to three of those years incarcerated.

That’s the maximum sentence allowed in Wisconsin’s juvenile justice system.

State law required Brown be charged as an adult.

In court Thursday, both of Brown’s attorneys and prosecutors recommended the case be moved to juvenile court. Judge Michael Fitzpatrick agreed Thursday morning.

Brown, with a long history of juvenile offenses and drug and alcohol abuse, needs treatment that is not available in the adult system, the attorneys and judge agreed.

Thursday afternoon, Brown waived her right to a trial in juvenile court on the charge of first-degree reckless homicide. Judge Alan Bates ruled Brown should get the maximum penalty.

Assistant district attorney Dan Niedfeldt said he was satisfied the sentence holds Brown accountable while allowing her treatment for serious personal issues.

One of those issues is the fact that Ashlee saw her younger brother killed by a car as he rode his Big Wheel six years ago, said defense attorney Barbara Gerber.

Because of that, Brown’s family can relate to the pain felt by Alex Aiken’s family, Gerber said.

Brown understands what she did and knows she must pay the consequences, Gerber said.

Brown sat quietly for most of both hearings, wearing prison garb and ankle chains. Her only sounds were timid-sounding one-word responses to the judges’ questions.

“She wants to change her life,” Gerber said. “She wants to better herself, get treatment for drugs and alcohol and counseling for issues around the death of her brother.”

Bates said the sentence does what the Legislature has commanded the juvenile courts to do: protect the community, make violators accountable and help the violators get treatment to better their lives.

A cruel prosecution of a troubled child

A cruel prosecution of a troubled child
Tuesday, June 19, 2007


STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- In any other legal context, he would have been called "Christopher", or "Chris," or "the child" or the "the boy."

Last Monday, however, when the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed his conviction and 30 year jail term in an adult prison, its lengthy opinion referred to him only as "Pittman," his last name, just as it would have if, on that tragic day six years ago, he had been a full-fledged adult instead of a psychiatrically-impaired 12- year-old-child.

Christopher Pittman came to live with his beloved paternal grandparents after his chaotic home life in Florida drove him to attempt suicide, an act that led to his commitment to a psychiatric facility. Upon his release, a South Carolina physician switched his medication to Zoloft, an antidepressant not recommended for use by children.

According to two highly qualified expert witnesses who testified at his trial, Christopher was "involuntarily intoxicated" on Zoloft and exhibiting psychotic features when he shot his grandparents to death in their bed on Nov. 28, 2001.

Christopher was taken into custody by Deputy Lucinda McKellar who, after informing him of his Miranda rights, induced the isolated little boy to purportedly waive his constitutional rights and confess to the killings. Incredibly, there was no recording made of the interrogation.

The ensuing murder charges against Christopher could have been heard in Family Court, a salutary, confidential forum whose focus would have been on providing him with the rehabilitative services he desperately needed.

Unfortunately, but all too typically these days, yahoo prosecutors were utterly indifferent to the child's plight.

So they vigorously objected to the Family Court's adjudicating the case just as they vehemently opposed a defense request that reasonable bail be set. Lacking the judicial courage required in this terrible time for America's kids, the court sided with prosecutors on both matters.

Christopher thus remained in custody for well over three years before being brought to trial, an unconscionable delay.

After the jury convicted him -- a result that should have surprised nobody --Christopher's aunt, Melinda Pittman Rector, whose parents were the deceased victims, told the presiding judge that her mother and father would have been pleading on Christopher's behalf because "That was not my nephew that night. He was a good kid."

Under South Carolina law, however, the mandatory minimum sentence was 30 years in jail and that was the sentence meted out by the court for the psychiatrically induced, totally-out-of-character behavior of an emotionally disturbed 12-year-old child.


While the outcome here wreaks of institutional evil, legal options remain for Christopher. Most intriguing is an application to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. While only a tiny fraction of such requests are granted, there are aspects of Christopher's case that just might entice the court to entertain the appeal.

For example, it's been 40 years since the Supreme Court addressed a case involving multi-faceted juvenile justice issues. When Matter of Gault was decided in 1967, kids in their middle teens were routinely tried in juvenile courts even for the most serious felonies.

Because juvenile proceedings often lacked the formality of adult criminal actions, the Supreme Court enunciated the minimum constitutional rights to which youngsters were entitled in juvenile courts.

Today, in sharp contrast, with very young children being senselessly prosecuted in adult courts, the time is ripe for the Supreme Court to address the issues raised by this ugly new landscape.

For example, the court might well be persuaded that a 12-year-old is too young to fully understand or effectively waive his constitutional rights, especially with the looming specter of lengthy jail terms in adult prisons.

If so, the court could provide children with a measure of protection against police and prosecutorial abuse by holding a child's confession inadmissible unless given in the presence of a parent or guardian who has also been informed of the youngster's Miranda rights.

In addition, employing the same reasoning it used in striking down the death penalty for juveniles, the court might also be ready to declare that mandatory jail terms for children are unconstitutional given the now scientifically documented immaturity of the adolescent brain.

If the Supreme Court does agree to hear Christopher's appeal, these and a few other arguments raised in his defense would likely resonate well with Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. That would leave the outcome up to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a philosophical moderate, who, incidentally, provided the pivotal fifth vote in the court's 2005 ruling banning the execution of juveniles.

The barbaric brutalization of Christopher Pittman by the State of South Carolina will stink in the annals of history. How supremely gratifying it would be if his case turns out to be the one that brings about desperately needed reforms from the nation's highest court.

Daniel Leddy's On The Law column appears each Tuesday on the Advance Op-Ed Page. His e-mail address is

Boy's life sacrificed on the altar of politics?
Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Indeed, the fate of the boy who was 12 years old and weighed a mere 100 pounds on a fateful evening in November, 2001 may well depend on whether the judges notice the gigantic pachyderm standing right smack in front of him.

Christopher's mother abandoned the boy shortly after he was born, consigning the child and his sister to an unstable home life populated by an overbearing father and a succession of disappearing stepmothers. The boy did, however, have an especially close bond with his paternal grandparents, Joe and Joy Pittman, who lived near the family's home in Florida.

In the summer of 2001, Christopher's mother suddenly reappeared in his young life. Being just a little boy, Christopher didn't understand that a mother who summarily discards her child isn't a good candidate for spontaneous redemption. So, he naively chose to believe that a new life awaited the family, a child-like profession of faith for which she promptly rewarded him by taking off once again.

His dreams of normalcy shattered, the devastated boy was overtaken by a deep depression. After threatening to kill himself, Christopher was committed to a psychiatric facility.

Upon being released to the custody of his grandparents, Christopher was prescribed Zoloft, an antidepressant not recommended for use by children. From the outset, the youngster suffered severe negative reactions to the powerful drug, culminating in the tragic events of Nov. 28, 2001 when he shot and killed both of his beloved grandparents while they were sleeping in their home.


When Lucinda Mckeller of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division eventually took Christopher into custody, she told the isolated, distraught and thoroughly defenseless child to call her "Lucy" and then proceeded to extract a "confession" out of him -- written by her own hand and featuring lofty adult language -- wherein he purported to admit to having killed because his grandfather had been physically abusive to him.

Incredibly, Mckeller not only assumed that this child fully understood his Miranda rights but voluntarily waived them. In fact, she didn't even accord the boy the safeguard of recording the interrogation.

Prosecutors seized upon the confession to indulge in the popular, albeit counterintuitive notion, that little children leapfrog into adulthood by doing particularly bad things. Thus, Christopher was tried in the Charleston Circuit Court and convicted of two counts of murder by a South Carolina jury in February of last year.

This, despite compelling testimony from highly credentialed expert witnesses that Christopher was under the profound influence of Zoloft's alarming effects at the time of the incident and unable to resist the drug's command hallucination to kill.

Thereafter, Judge Daniel Pieper, brushing aside evidence of serious jury misconduct and a compelling argument that the prescribed mandatory sentence was unconstitutional, sentenced Christopher to an adult prison for a minimum term of 30 years. These are among the several issues that the Supreme Court will consider this Thursday.


Most intriguing, however, is an argument posited on a provision of South Carolina law that a child between the ages of 7 and 14 is presumed to be incapable of having the mental capacity to commit a crime. The prosecution can, however, rebut the presumption by presenting appropriate evidence that a particular child between those ages does possess the capacity to commit a crime.

The prosecution produced no expert testimony as to Christopher's criminal capacity on its direct case. After the state rested, however, the defense made only a general motion for dismissal without specifically citing the prosecution's failure to establish Christopher's mental capacity to commit a crime.

The prosecution now argues that the defense thereby waived the argument on appeal. The defense counters that its general motion to dismiss was sufficient to preserve the issue for appellate review. While this critical issue should have been specifically raised by the defense after the state rested its case, the defense's general motion was probably sufficient to raise the matter on appeal given the enormous stakes involved.

That brings us back to the 10-ton elephant stalking the halls of justice down in Charleston. Christopher was 12 when he killed his grandparents. If this young child is an adult, the 16-year-old page to whom a Florida congressman sent suggestive e-mails must be a senior citizen. Why such concern for his well-being?

Why can't Christopher and others like him vote, sit on juries, smoke cigarettes, drink beer, enlist in the military, skip school, hold public office or drive automobiles? Why is society so committed to preventing child abuse on the one hand while fostering it by sending little children to be beaten, brutalized and sexually accosted by hardened adult prisoners?

When Christopher Pittman killed his grandparents, he was a child and not an adult. No prosecution however persuasive, no legal fiction however indulged, no rationale however twisted, and no political agenda, however morally bankrupt, can change that -- ever.

That is the 10- ton elephant that will position itself before the judges of the South Carolina Supreme Court this Thursday. If they see the prodigious creature, their decision will write itself and Christopher Pittman's agonizing five year ordeal will be over.

Daniel Leddy's On The Law column appears each Tuesday on the Advance Op-Ed Page. His e-mail address is

Judge Daniel Leddy, NY Family Court

Monday, June 06, 2005

Trial jurors are routinely given explicit instructions by the court which they are required by law to obey. Those who fail to do so subvert justice by denying the respective litigants their right to a fair trial. Nevertheless, jurors who misbehave are too often treated with kid gloves, receiving little more than tepid expressions of displeasure from the court. This is unfortunate because the integrity of our judicial system demands that they be held fully accountable for breaching their oaths as jurors.

Charged as an adult with murder by South Carolina for killing his grandparents when he was 12 years old, the last thing Christopher Pittman needed was a trial jury that didn't play by the rules. That, however, is exactly what he got.

Despite the testimony of two highly qualified psychiatrists that Christopher was "involuntarily intoxicated" on Zoloft on the night in question, the jury implausibly found him guilty. Soon thereafter, evidence of serious jury misconduct surfaced.

One juror admitted to having discussed the case with a bartender during a break in deliberations. The bartender recalled that the juror had expressed his belief that Christopher was guilty. The same juror also admitted to having spoken with his wife about the case.

Jurors are repeatedly warned by the court not to discuss the case with anybody except fellow jurors, and only then during deliberations.

They are also advised not to form any opinion about the guilt or innocence of a defendant until they hear all the evidence and receive the judge's instructions on the law.

Jurors are further instructed that, during deliberations, they should keep an open mind, and carefully evaluate the opinions and arguments of their fellow jurors.

By discussing the case with his wife and a bartender, and expressing his belief that Christopher was guilty, this juror flagrantly disregarded the court's instructions, violated his oath, and sabotaged the child's right to a fair trial.


But there was more. Two other jurors testified that they didn't really believe that Christopher was guilty, and that they were coerced into voting for conviction by other jurors. This, they maintained, came about because they were led to believe that a majority vote was sufficient for conviction. Since the majority of the jurors wanted to convict, they mistakenly thought that they had to acquiesce in the guilty verdict.

Regardless of whether this serious misunderstanding of the law came about from inadequate instructions by the court, or undue coercion by the other jurors, it is clear that the two dissenting jurors did not render true verdicts according to their conscience.

Despite this, Judge Daniel Pieper last month denied a defense motion for a new trial, concluding that the revelations were not sufficiently serious to even warrant further review. Though poorly reasoned, the decision was typical of Pieper who has marched in lockstep with prosecutors throughout their mindless vendetta against a very vulnerable little boy.

Consider that while Pieper decided that no remedial relief should be accorded Christopher, he specifically ordered that the identity of the juror who discussed the case with his wife and the bartender be protected. In other words, he gave the blabbing juror a pass and the little boy 30 years in an adult prison.

As another case over which he presided well illustrates, Pieper embraces double standards with as much gusto as he emboldens prosecutors who seek to make a name for themselves by ruthlessly ruining the life of a mere child.

Last year, a South Carolina man, Frederick Ravenell, 42, was charged with murder in the shooting death of his younger brother. Prosecutors from the same county that handled Christopher's case consented to have the charges reduced to involuntary manslaughter at the urging of family members. When the matter appeared before Pieper for sentencing, he placed Ravenell on probation for two years.

At Christopher's sentencing, his aunt, Melinda Pittman Rector, whose parents were the deceased victims, begged Pieper for leniency, declaring that her parents would most assuredly be asking for mercy for their grandson.

Although South Carolina does have a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years for murder, the defense gave Pieper a solid legal rationale for refusing to apply it. Pieper, however, sided with prosecutors and sent Christopher to an adult penitentiary for the full 30 years.

As Christopher's case now moves to South Carolina's appellate courts, this sorry miscarriage of justice should be indelibly affixed to Pieper's reputation for as long as the children of his state are unfortunate enough to have him on the bench.

By: Judge Daniel Leddy (Family Court Judge NY)

Monday, February 21, 2005

After deliberating less than seven hours, a jury in Charleston, S.C., last week convicted Christopher Pittman of murdering his grandparents three years ago when he was 12 years of age.

Although there were none of his peers on the jury because the law deems them too young to serve, the empanelled jurors proved conclusively that adulthood doesn't necessarily herald the advent of intelligence or even common sense. Thus, they rejected the testimony of two highly credentialed psychiatrists that Christopher's actions were the result of his being involuntarily intoxicated on Zoloft, an anti-depressant medication prescribed after he had attempted suicide.

As it turned out, justice would have been better served with a jury of kids because these 12 adults couldn't recognize reasonable doubt if it hit them in the head with a two-by-four.

At the sentencing, lead defense attorney Andy Vickery asked Judge Daniel Pieper to declare South Carolina's mandatory minimum 30-year-jail term unconstitutional insofar as it applied to children. Also urging leniency for Christopher was his aunt, Melinda Pittman Rector, whose parents were the deceased victims.

She told the court that both her mother and father would be begging for mercy for Christopher if they were alive. Referring to the boy's state of mind at the time of the incident, she declared, "That was not my nephew that night. He's a good kid."

Pieper initially sounded sympathetic, labeling the case "tragic" for the entire family, and even adding that it "called attention to the very core values of this society about the treatment of juveniles and punishment."

Then, however, establishing that black robes do not bestow courage in the face of an angry society, Pieper claimed that he was bound by the law as written, and summarily sentenced Christopher to 30 years in jail.

If the law is unconstitutional, however, he certainly wasn't bound to follow it.

In fact, he was affirmatively bound not to follow it, a fact that Pieper knows full well. After sandbagging Christopher with an act of rank judicial cowardice, Pieper could manage nothing better than a mindless "Good luck to you."

The irony is that Christopher's already bad luck as a mentally ill child escalated the moment his case arrived in Pieper's courtroom.


If Pieper had really wanted to do justice in this case, he would have granted the defense's request that it be handled in the Family Court. In that forum, far from the glare of intense media scrutiny, Christopher and his family could have gotten the help they so desperately need without compromising the community's legitimate right to protection.

The proposition that juvenile courts are incapable of adequately protecting the public in cases of serious wrongdoing is an oft-repeated lie spread by politicians willing to sacrifice a kid's entire life for a fleeting bump in public opinion polls.

You may be surprised to know that, in many cases, kids appearing in juvenile courts can be confined for substantially longer periods of time than similarly charged adults in criminal courts. The trade-off is that kids found by juvenile courts to have broken the law are placed in facilities designed to rehabilitate rather than punish them

Generally, the initial term for which a child is placed by a juvenile court can be extended upon a showing that he needs additional treatment. Extensive reports from case workers, mental health officials and probation departments aid the court in reaching an appropriate decision.

Yes, juvenile courts can make mistakes, but so can adult courts.

In Christopher Pittman's case, they made a whopper, solidifying the boy's place right next to his grandparents as the third victim.

Children who break the law are treated more harshly today than at any other time in American history, including the Colonial era. That's a cold, hard fact. It's also a pretty lousy commentary on our character as a people.

The most depressing aspect, however, is the absence of any significant movement to reform the laws. Neither of the major political parties seem the least bit interested.

For the most part, Republicans were in the forefront of the campaign to try children as adults, and aren't about to undo what they've callously crafted into political capital. And for all their boasts about being the champions of the downtrodden, none of this could have happened without the acquiescence of the Democrats.

Christopher Pittman's eminently redeemable life has been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. What a damning indictment of our time on earth.

By: Judge Daniel Leddy (Family Court Judge NY)
Monday, May 09, 2005

Justice for Juveniles is a grass-roots organization that is campaigning to change the barbaric manner in which this country treats children accused of serious crimes.

The group properly characterizes the prosecution of these youngsters in adult criminal courts and the imposition of lengthy prison terms in adult penitentiaries as state sanctioned child abuse.

It has taken up the cause of several children victimized by this grotesque handiwork of unprincipled politicians, cowardly judges, ambitious prosecutors and an apathetic public unwilling to demand an end to the insanity.
Justice for Juveniles has currently posted a petition to the South Carolina legislature on its website in support of "Christopher's Bill," a measure that would significantly reform the way in which accused children are treated in that state and serve as a prototype for similar reforms in other jurisdictions.

It is named for Christopher Pittman, who was convicted by a South Carolina jury in February of murdering his grandparents when he was 12 years of age and intoxicated on Zoloft, an anti-depressant prescribed for him after he had attempted suicide.

Judge Daniel Pieper, who had previously denied a defense motion to have the case heard in Family Court, where it clearly belonged, sentenced the young boy to 30 years in an adult jail.

Thereafter, Christopher's attorneys asked Pieper to reduce the sentence to a term that would expire when the boy becomes 21 years of age. In support of the motion, they cited language from Roper v. Simmons, the recent decision by the United States Supreme Court striking down the death penalty for those under the age of 18 when they commit their crimes.

In deciding that executing juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court noted that juveniles lack the maturity of adults while offering a far better prospect for rehabilitation.

Christopher's attorneys argued persuasively that the same rationale militates against decimating children's lives by sentencing them to long terms in adult jails. Pieper, however, refused to stick his judicial neck out to blaze a new legal frontier on Christopher's behalf. Instead, he opted to preside over the ruination of a child's life with nary a whimper.

The case for using the language of the Roper decision to reduce Christopher's sentence is bolstered by the fact that society recognizes the practical impact of children's immaturity in numerous ways.

Among other restrictions, they can't vote, sit on juries, hold public office, consent to sexual relationships, or purchase alcohol or tobacco.

At the same time, they can be prosecuted for non-criminal conduct such as refusing to attend school, and disobeying their parents. Against these realities, the practice of prosecuting children as adults is blisteringly hypocritical.


It's a point I've made in previous columns and in discussions with people at seminars, public gatherings, and private meetings. Yet, I've never met a single person who has even attempted to reconcile the age-appropriate manner in which kids are treated generally with the naked meanness that has hijacked the juvenile justice system.

To me, this can only be explained by a general recognition among thinking people that this bizarre disparity in treatment is absolutely indefensible. Unfortunately, this doesn't translate into the public pressure necessary to get politicians to turn a deaf ear to the beer-belching yahoos and their simplistic law and order blabber.

"Christopher's Bill" contains a number of sensible reforms that would restore the integrity of the juvenile justice system without compromising the safety of the community. One of its key provisions would exempt any person under 14 years of age from mandatory sentencing laws and require that they be at least eligible for parole or release when they become 21 years old.

The proposal would also require law enforcement officials to advise children under the age of 14 of their constitutional rights in the presence of an attorney or guardian and permit questioning only when such adults are present. This provision recognizes the obvious -- yet routinely ignored -- reality that a child is no match for veteran police interrogators.

To provide relief for Christopher and others similarly situated, the bill would be retroactive for 10 years.

Getting South Carolina or any other state to reform its juvenile justice system is going to be extraordinarily difficult. While it is comforting that Justice for Juveniles and other like-minded organizations are waging the good fight, they could definitely use the help of some powerful politicians.

As of now, at least, the silence is both deafening and disgusting.

Judge Daniel Leddy/Family Court Judge NY

Monday, June 13, 2005

Most parents are certain that it won't happen to their child. They figure that police, prosecutors and courts are for other people's kids, the ones from bad homes who were never taught right from wrong. It's a dangerous naiveté that carries a very high price tag. For while responsible parents strive diligently to prepare their children for every contingency, they leave them woefully unprepared for the seemingly unthinkable possibility of being arrested.

Countless unsuspecting children find themselves in precisely that traumatic situation every day. When stunned parents are notified by the police, they have absolutely no idea how bad things could really get even where the charge is of a minor nature and will be handled in Family Court. They don't anticipate finding themselves in a desperate, agonizing struggle to salvage their child's future. And they certainly can't be expected to know that the worst place in the state to be prosecuted in the Family Court is right here in New York City.

When the New York State Family Court came into existence in 1962, it handled every type of charge filed against youngsters under the age of 16, including murder. Through the years, however, the power of the Family Court has been whittled away by political blowhards in Albany trying to portray themselves as tough-as-nails on juvenile crime. As a result of a succession of mean-spirited, knee-jerk legislative initiatives, children are now tried in adult courts for several kinds of crimes.

Even though the Family Court generally handles only lesser offenses today, juvenile delinquency proceedings in the five boroughs often generate an intensity approximating the trial of major felonies in the adult system. A far cry from what the Family Court was supposed to be, this is a very unsettling reality.


The case against accused juveniles in the Family Court is handled by attorneys from the New York City Corporation Counsel's Office. They are not elected officials nor are they even technically prosecutors, although their function is similar and they clearly relish the label.

When drawing up charges against a child, these attorneys don't hold anything back. If a simple offense could theoretically support 10 different charges, you can bet the ranch that the child is going to get hit with all ten. They persist in this hard-nosed attitude throughout the entire proceeding, from arraignment to disposition. However much they try to justify this approach as furthering the interests of the community at large, it remains fundamentally inconsistent with the historic mandate of the Family Court to rehabilitate wayward kids in the least restrictive manner. Besides, when a child is successfully rehabilitated, the community profits.

One argument that attorneys from the Corporation Counsel's office make in defense of their handling of juvenile delinquency cases does have some merit. They point out that the great majority of children charged in Family Court are represented very aggressively by the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aid Society. Unless they are equally aggressive in prosecuting cases, they argue, the defense will run roughshod over them, and potentially dangerous children might be cut loose without regard for the public safety.

It's true that Legal Aid attorneys provide tenacious representation for their young clients. Their goal is to get the delinquency charges dismissed, however much the accused child might actually need treatment or confinement. Nobody is suggesting, however, that the attorneys from the Corporation Counsel's office should roll over for them.

On the contrary, they have an important role to fulfill and they should fulfill it well. That does not translate, however, into a license to denigrate the needs of the child as a matter of course.

Children accused of wrongdoing in the Family Court in New York City have only one real hope of escaping the consequences of what juvenile delinquency proceedings have become. Judges have to take the initiative to try to resolve these cases in their earliest stages. Those who passively sit back and hope that the opposing attorneys will work out a deal on their own are missing a golden opportunity to shield a child from unnecessary anguish. In other words, they are not doing their job.

Finally, parents should disabuse themselves of the notion that none of this has any relevance to them. They must understand that juvenile delinquency proceedings are extremely serious and could result in their child's being taken away from them for several years. Moreover, there are attorneys at the courthouse who might well be pushing for exactly that to happen.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Held In Isolation 23 Hours A Day Even Though He Has Not Been Convicted Of A Crime.

For the past six months, George has been living alone in a small cell on the second floor of the Harris County jail awaiting trial on charges of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. Prosecutors say he was one of a group of boys who robbed and assaulted a married couple at gunpoint.

George (not his real name) has been held in isolation 23 hours a day even though he has not been convicted of a crime.

He is 15 years old. (He desperately misses his mom.)

In most cases, teens ages 14 to 16 would be held before trial in the county’s juvenile facility, but George has been certified to stand trial as an adult, which means he is housed across the street at the “Big Jail.”

Liz Ryan, Director of Youth Justice, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C., says data shows that juveniles are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than a juvenile detention facility and 19 times more likely to kill themselves in isolation than in general population.

Vogel tells the story of another teen whose case never even went to trial. But before it was dropped, the 16-year-old had spent a year in isolation, which he described as “mental agony.”

“It made me want to act crazy,” he says, “but I knew I wasn’t a crazy person. I know that in their eyes we’re adults and criminals, but at the same time, we’re very young and we haven’t been convicted. We’re just sitting there. You get crazy thoughts, like you want to hurt somebody or hurt yourself.”

Vogel’s investigation found that in 2008, 83 teens in Harris County were “certified” to stand trial as adults. Since in many cases their families cannot afford bail, they remain in jail awaiting trial, where they are often placed in solitary confinement “for their own protection.”

“The treatment of these kids has slipped under the radar,” Vogel writes. “Even the judges who certify them as adults and many county officials seem unaware that this legal determination sends the teens to isolation.” He points out: ”They have not been convicted of anything, yet their treatment — the isolation — is akin to the severe, short-term punishment of adult prisoners who have already been condemned. And there they sit, for months, even years, before ever going to trial.”

The effects of solitary confinement on children–which, as you might imagine, can be profound*

"The treatment of these kids has slipped under the radar,” Vogel writes. “Even the judges who certify them as adults and many county officials seem unaware that this legal determination sends the teens to isolation.” He points out: ”They have not been convicted of anything, yet their treatment — the isolation — is akin to the severe, short-term punishment of adult prisoners who have already been condemned. And there they sit, for months, even years, before ever going to trial.”

Sister Doherty Counsels juveniles, their parents and those volunteers who want to address their own concerns or issues. She is there to provide emotional support, empathy and compassion.
It can take a toll, of course. Her heart goes out to the juveniles, but she takes great care not to become too attached to them or their parents. And when she has to, Sister Doherty says, she vents through prayer life and support from her religious community and priests.
"I have to leave it in God's hands, and hopefully I can continue doing some good," she says. "Because this is very tragic and sad,
She says she vents to God and puts them in God's hands,or else it would be to much for her, & she says shhe can not give up they need
people to care about them giving them the will to go on.

My source for this was The Arizona Prison Watch.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

18 Year Old Tried To Kill Himself 4 Times

HELENA — An 18-year-old Montana State Prison inmate who claims he has been treated inhumanely is asking a district court judge to step in to keep him from returning to a solitary cell and other treatment he and his lawyers say is deplorable and scarring.

Raistlen Katka testified Tuesday that he has attempted suicide four times in part due to his treatment at the prison. According to Katka’s attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, an injunction is needed to stop the irreparable harm being done by the prison.

A hearing was held before District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock to give Katka and the prison a chance to argue their cases.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Montana Department of Corrections and the state in December on behalf of Katka, alleging he had been treated illegally and inhumanely. The situation be-came so dire, Katka testified Tuesday, that he twice attempted to kill himself by biting through the skin on his wrist to puncture a vein.

“My thought process was if I don’t die, at least I’ll get out of my cell for 30 seconds,” Katka testified.

Katka is being housed at the Montana State Hospital pending the ruling on the injunction. Testimony will continue today.

Attorneys representing the state said the confinement in the prison’s maximum-security unit helped to protect Katka and other inmates in addition to preserving order at the facility.

Katka had been at the prison since February 2008 after he pleaded guilty to two felony counts of assault on a peace officer stemming from a physical altercation with two correctional officers at Pine Hills Correctional Facility for juveniles. After the altercation, he was sentenced to five years under the supervision of the Department of Corrections. He was convicted as an adult after waiving his right to transfer the charges to youth court.

Katka and his attorneys say his treatment at the prison has exacerbated his mental illness, which includes depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. They are asking that Katka not be subjected to solitary confinement, not be disciplined with acts such as the removal of personal property from his cell and be transferred to another facility where his needs can be better met.

Maxon Davis, a Great Falls attorney representing the state, argued Katka was a danger to himself and others and that was evident by his criminal history, including violent crimes, dating back to the age of 10.

Katka said he didn’t tell prison officials about his suicidal thoughts for fear of punishment.

At the prison, Katka’s available mental health treatment consists of a staff member knocking on his door once a week and asking if he has any concerns, according to his attorneys, and then he must answer by yelling within earshot of other inmates.

“I think the state has proven in this case that they are not willing or able to provide the mental illness treatment he needs,” said Andree Larose, a Helena attorney representing Katka. “He needs a chance and that chance can’t come from the prison treating him like an animal.”

Katka said much of his time at the prison he was in a solitary cell with only a mattress and blanket and dressed in a smock.

The lawsuit was originally filed when Katka was 17 years old and he was listed as “Robert Doe.”

Jennifer Giuttari, ACLU of Montana staff attorney, said she heard about Katka’s plight in letters from his fellow inmates saying they had heard the teen crying out for help and were concerned. His mother and aunt also wrote to the ACLU asking for help.

Juveniles Held In Solitary Confinement

While there are no concrete numbers, it’s safe to say that hundreds, if not thousands of children are in solitary confinement in the United States–some in juvenile detention facilities, and some in adult prisons. Short bouts of solitary confinement are even viewed as a legitimate form of punishment in some American schools. In several posts over the next week, Solitary Watch News will be covering the story of children in lock down. In this first post, we address teenagers in solitary confinement in adult prisons.

* Henry Weinstein, chair of the APA Caucus on Correctional Psychiatry and a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University, “believes that solitary confinement can have mental health impacts on both healthy people and those with psychiatric illness,” according to the article. “Its effects are likely similar to the mental health consequences of torture, which leave some permanently mentally impaired and others relatively unscathed.”
Different kinds of challenges to solitary confinement, through both lawsuits and legislative efforts. It is scrupulously “balanced,” presenting opinions from some who think that prolonged solitary confinement may exacerbate pre-existing mental illnesses, but does not drive sane people crazy. (They might wish to conduct the experiment suggested by one prisoners in Illinois Tamms SupprtMax “Lock yourself in your bathroom for the next 10 years and tell me how it will affect your mind.”)

Now 29, Manuel has spent half his life in a concrete box the size of a walk-in closet. His food comes through a slot in the door. He never sees another inmate. Out of boredom he cuts himself just to watch the blood trickle. Attorneys who advocate on behalf of prisoners call Manuel “the poster boy” for the ill effects of solitary confinement….

In 1991, when Manuel arrived at the prison processing center in Central Florida, he was so small no one could find a prison uniform to fit him, Ron McAndrew, then the assistant warden, recalled. Someone cut 6 inches off the boy’s pant legs so he would have something to wear. “He was scared of everything and acting like a tough guy as a defense mechanism,” said McAndrew, now a prison and jail consultant in Florida. “He didn’t stand a chance in an adult prison.”

Within months, Manuel was sent to Apalachee Correctional Institution in Jackson County, which McAndrew called “one of the toughest adult prisons in the state.” At Apalachee, the boy mouthed off to other inmates and correctional officers and made obscene hand gestures, racking up disciplinary infractions that landed him in solitary.

On Christmas Eve 1992, he was allowed to make one phone call. He called Debbie Baigrie, the woman he had shot. “This is Ian. I am sorry for all the suffering I’ve caused you,” she remembers him saying. They began to correspond regularly. Baigrie said she was impressed with how well he wrote.

She asked prison officials to let him take the General Educational Development test and take college courses. “I got a second chance in life. I recovered and went on,” Baigrie said. “I wanted Ian to have the same chance.” But the rules of solitary forbade Manuel from participating in any kind of self-improvement or educational program. Instead, he sat in his cell day in and day out, without reading materials or human interaction, racking up more infractions for “disrespect,” which only extended his time in solitary.

After several years, Baigrie gave up. “Not because of Ian,” she said, “but because the system made it impossible for him to improve. What does it say when a victim tries to do more for an inmate than the very system that’s supposed to rehabilitate him?”…

“It’s my belief,” [Manuel said at a federal court hearing], “that the reason I haven’t been able to progress off CM (close management) all these years is the way the system is set up. One DR (disciplinary report) will keep you there for six months and those six months add up to years and those years turn into decades.” In the past seven months, prison records show Manuel received three disciplinary writeups: one for not making his bed, another for hiding a day’s worth of prescription medicine instead of taking it, and yet another for yelling through the food flap when a correctional officer refused to take his grievance form. Those reports extended his stay on the strictest level of solitary for nine months.

Manuel told the judge that in isolation he has become a “cutter,” slicing his arms and legs with whatever sharp object he can find – a fragment of a toothpaste tube or a tiny piece of glass….In the past year, Ian Manuel has attempted suicide five times. In late August he slit his wrists. A prison nurse closed the wounds with superglue and returned him to his solitary cell. When the judge asked him why he attempted suicide, Manuel said, “You kind of lose hope.”

>>Cruel and Unusual: Sentencing 13- and 14-Year-Old Children to Die in Prison, described the case of Florida prisoner Ian Manuel, who was “raised in gruesome violence and extreme poverty,” raped by a sibling at age four. “When Ian was 13,” the report continues, ”he was directed by gang members to commit a robbery. During the botched robbery attempt, a woman suffered a nonfatal gunshot wound and a remorseful Ian turned himself in to the police. Ian’s attorney instructed him to plead guilty and told him he would receive a 15-year sentence.” Instead, he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Ian Manuel was also featured in a powerful article by Meg Laughlin, published in 2006 in the St. Petersburg Times, on solitary confinement in Florida, which has the nation’s highest percentage of prisoner’s in lockdown. Laughlin wrote about the nearly 15 years Manuel had spent in lockdown.


Second Class Justice is a first-class new blog published by Stephen B. Bright, who heads the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. It's primary aim is "ending the unfair and discriminatory treatment of people in the criminal justice system by documenting that treatment." It's mission statement continues:

Contrary to the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection of the laws and the etching “Equal Justice Under Law” on the Supreme Court building, the kind of justice people get in America’s courts depends very much upon the amount of money they have. Poor people are deprived of their liberty – and even their lives – because they cannot afford competent legal representation. The rich and guilty often have a better chance of avoiding conviction than those who are poor and innocent.

This blog documents examples of second class – and sometimes third world – “justice” for the poor and people of color in the hope that knowledge will someday overcome the indifference, hostility and racism that have affected the criminal justice system throughout America’s history, and bring about a just, fair, humane and reliable system.

Recently, Bright described the case of a juvenile murder suspect who is being held in isolation in a county jail in Tennessee for the sole reason that his family is too poor to afford his bond, set at $500,000.

A 15-year old child, JP, charged with murder, has been locked up in a cell in the Montgomery County in Clarksville, Tennessee since July 2009 with no physical contact from a member of his family and no schooling. His mother is allowed to “visit” him by seeing him twice a week for 30 minutes on a TV monitor. She has not touched her son in over a year. She has not hugged him, or kissed his cheek, or brushed his hair off his forehead. The child has gone for over a year with no physical contact other than a correctional officer holding his arms when they move him.

This is child abuse and neglect. If a parent locked a 15-year old child away for a year with no physical contact, he or she would be charged with child abuse. If the parent refused to let the child attend school for a year, he or she would be charged with child abuse or neglect, a well a violation the state’s compulsory education laws. Yet this is precisely what the officials at the Montgomery County Jail have been doing and intend to continue until trial, tentatively set for March 2011.

The psychological damage that is taking place is incalculable. The child was held in a mental hospital for a week and half immediately after his arrest. He attempted suicide shortly after being arrested while he was in a juvenile detention center. A mental health professional at the hospital prescribed him an anti-depressant. However, once the court ruled that he would be tried as an adult all treatment stopped. Six months after he went to jail, the jail physician, who is not a mental health professional, took him off of the anti-depressant. For a number of months, the child was held in his cell for 23 hours a day, allowed only one hour a day to shower and make phone calls. He is developing quirks, he jerks a lot when he talks, twitches his head.

Unless something changes, JP could spend close to two years in jail before he is tried--in other words, while he remains, in the eyes of the law, innocent of any crime.

Appeal Impacts Parole Eligibility for Juveniles Convicted of Capital Murder Under com/jsp/tx/ PubArticleTX. jsp?id=120247187 4432

September 13, 2010

A Minor Issue: Appeal Impacts Parole Eligibility for Juveniles Convicted of Capital Murder Under Old Law

By Mary Alice Robbins | Texas Lawyer

Chris Meadoux, who turns 20 on Oct. 1, is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for slaying two people in 2007 when he was 16 years old. If Meadoux had committed the murders this year, he would have a chance at parole after serving 40 years behind bars because he committed the crime as a minor. However, Meadoux killed the pair before the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 839 in 2009.

Texas' position on permitting parole eligibility for juveniles convicted of capital murder has changed over the years. Prior to 2005, juveniles who committed capital murder could receive the death penalty or a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 40 years. But in 2005, the Texas Legislature changed that law to say all capital offenders could never be released from prison, according to the Senate Research Center's analysis of S.B. 839.

Then in 2009, lawmakers changed their mind and passed S.B. 839, eliminating the sentence of life without parole for juveniles certified to be tried as adults for capital murder. The bill took effect on Sept. 1, 2009, but does not apply retroactively.

According to information provided by Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clarke, Meadoux is one of 20 juvenile offenders serving life without parole in this state. Houston criminal-defense solo Brian Wice says there are 19, because an appellate court recently remanded the case of one of his clients for a new trial.

In Meadoux v. State , a case of first impression, Cheves Ligon, of counsel at the Bexar County Appellate Public Defender's Office, will argue on Meadoux's behalf Sept. 15 before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. He will try to persuade the court that sentencing a juvenile to life without the chance of parole constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Noting that Meadoux was 16 at the time of the murders, Ligon says, "Someone who was this age when he committed an offense . . . is not developed enough as a person to act with such a degree of culpability that we should place him in jail until he dies."

Referring to the young people now serving life without parole, Bexar County First Assistant Criminal District Attorney Cliff Herberg says, "The juries heard the cases and decided that was the appropriate sentence."

Herberg says the Legislature could have chosen to make S.B. 839 retroactive, but it didn't.

"It's possible the Legislature was quite aware of these cases and decided to let the jury verdicts stand," he says.

But state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, a solo and author of the bill, says, "It was an oversight. In this type of situation, my intent would have been to make the law applicable to this case."

State Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, House sponsor of S.B. 839, says it was not the Legislature' s intent that juveniles convicted of capital murder before the bill took effect should serve life in prison with no chance for parole.

"That was not the intent of where we are going," McReynolds says.
Cruel and Unusual?

San Antonio's 4th Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court's judgment in Meadoux on Dec. 9, 2009, provides the following background on the case: On Jan. 24, 2007, firefighters found two bodies in a locked bedroom at the scene of a house fire. Luis Martinez's and Johnny You's bodies each had two gunshot wounds to the head and a neck laceration. Fire investigators determined the blaze was set intentionally.

When detectives questioned him at the police station, Meadoux initially said he was not involved in the deaths. But Meadoux subsequently said he accidentally committed the murders when he and You fought over a gun and it discharged. Meadoux said he set the fire to cover up the killings.

Authorities arrested Meadoux in August 2007 and certified him to be tried as an adult. After a trial, the jury returned a general verdict, finding Meadoux guilty of capital murder, and the trial court sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole, the automatic sentence at that time.

Among other things in his appeal to the 4th Court, Meadoux challenged Texas' sentencing scheme of automatic life without parole for a juvenile convicted of capital murder. The 4th Court, which ruled against Meadoux on all of his issues, concluded that the Texas sentencing scheme does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment

Justice Phylis Speedlin wrote for the 4th Court, "Given that the legislature chose not to apply the parole eligibility amendment retroactively to juveniles who have already been sentenced for a capital murder, it would not be appropriate for the court to 'judicially amend' the statute." Justices Rebecca Simmons and Steven Hilbig joined in the opinion.

The CCA website shows that Meadoux filed his petition for discretionary review with the CCA Feb. 2, and the court granted review March 24.

In his single ground for review, Meadoux argues that the 4th Court erred in finding that, in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence and statutory changes, a juvenile's sentence of life without parole is constitutional.

Meadoux argues in his brief to the CCA that in determining what is impermissibly "cruel and unusual," the Eighth Amendment takes into account in its proportionality analysis the characteristics of those convicted. In 2002's Atkins v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the death penalty was impermissibly cruel and unusual when applied to the mentally retarded, Meadoux notes in the brief.

According to Meadoux's brief, in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court found compelling reasons to hold the death penalty unconstitutional as applied to juveniles. Meadoux points out that in Roper v. Simmons ,the Supreme Court determined that juveniles lack maturity and possess an underdeveloped sense of responsibility, have greater susceptibility to peer pressure, and are still creatures in flux who are not yet fully formed.

The state argues in its brief to the CCA that Meadoux failed to present his complaint regarding the constitutionality of the sentencing scheme at trial and therefore waived it on appeal.

In its brief, the state also notes that, although the U.S. Supreme Court "factored age in the gross disproportionality analysis" in May 17's Graham v. Florida, the court restricted its holding.

In its 6-3 decision in Graham , the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishments clause does not permit a juvenile offender to be sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole for a nonhomicide offense.

With regard to Texas' life-without- parole sentencing scheme for juveniles convicted of capital murder, Herberg says. "We feel like we're well within the holding in Graham. "

Wice says if the CCA finds that the Eighth Amendment prevents life-without- parole sentences for juveniles, Meadoux would be eligible, upon request to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, for commutation of his sentence to life.

Wice represents Litrey Demond Turner, who originally was sentenced to life without parole for capital murder. Houston's 1st Court Appeals remanded Turner's case for a new trial in July 30's Turner v. State. Turner was 15 years old at the time he allegedly committed his crime. [See "1st Court overturns conviction of prisoner who allegedly committed capital murder at age 15," Tex Parte blog, Aug. 3, 2010]

If the CCA rules against Meadoux, he still might have a chance at parole after he serves 40 years. Hinojosa says he plans to file a bill in 2011 that will clarify his intent in S.B. 839.

Notes Hinojosa, "I want to make it clear that this law is retroactive. "
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Mary Alice Robbins is on Twitter at www.twitter. com/maryarobbins .

Friday, August 20, 2010

New Report Calls for an End to Child Prosecutions In Adult Court

August 19, 2010

News from NJJN

Advances & News in the Field

Louisiana Governor Signs Juvenile Justice Bills Mandating Educational Reform and Standards for Detention Centers

Oklahoma and Rhode Island Work to Reduce Disproportionate Representation of Minorities in Juvenile Justice System

New Jersey Creates Juvenile Transfer Task Force While New Report Calls for an End to Child Prosecutions in Wyoming Adult Courts

Four of New York State’s Youth Prisons to Be Placed Under Federal Oversight

New Reports & Research

NJJN Releases New Policy Paper Detailing Opportunities for Reform During Difficult Fiscal Times

NJJN Publishes Guide to Creating and Sustaining Meaningful Family Partnerships in Juvenile Justice Reform

NJJN’s Latest Policy Platform Offers Recommendations for Strengthening Reentry and Aftercare Services for Youth

New Report from Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana Calls Attention to Needs of System-Involved LGBT Youth

Justice Policy Institute Brief Examines the Relationship Between Childhood Trauma and Involvement in the Juvenile Justice System

Article in Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy Offers Lessons Learned in Juvenile Justice

New Research on Messaging Offers Tips for Telling More Effective Stories

Media of Note

National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Publishes Articles Calling for Elimination of Valid Court Order Exception in JJDPA

ABC Primetime Segment on Missouri DYS Wins Silver Gavel Award for Television from American Bar Association

Sentencing Project Launches Juvenile Justice Web page

Job Opportunities

Mid-Atlantic Juvenile Defender Center Seeks Interim Director

Community Justice Network for Youth Seeks Regional Managers

Just Detention International Seeks Program Assistant

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Seeks Membership Director and Federal Policy Deputy Director

Upcoming Conferences

Registration Open for 2010 Coalition for Juvenile Justice National DMC Conference

Advances & News in the Field

Louisiana Governor Signs Juvenile Justice Bills Mandating Educational Reform and Standards for Detention Centers

With strong support from NJJN members and partners, including Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, Louisiana’s governor signed SB 527 (Act 136) on June 8. This law requires local school districts to provide certain class management training to teachers, principals, and other school personnel to support student behavior and discipline in a more positive way. The training is to include positive behavioral supports and reinforcement, conflict resolution, mediation, cultural competence, restorative practices, guidance and discipline, and adolescent development. Policies incorporating positive behavioral supports and restorative justice principles are also now required for charter schools pursuant to HB 1487 (Act 756), signed by Gov. Jindal on June 29 and also supported by NJJN members and partners. Additionally, the introduction of SB 628, a bill to require implementation of an evidence-based positive behavioral support discipline program and to encourage alternatives to student expulsion and arrest, led to a study resolution that will create a task force to study the bill and redraft it. Click here to learn more about a new book on the issue of school discipline (“Homeroom Security: School Discipline in an Age of Fear,” Aaron Kupchik).

Finally, on June 30, Louisiana's governor signed HB 1477 (Act 863), which establishes a plan and timeline for juvenile detention center licensing standards and implementation throughout Louisiana. The standards will establish a baseline for all facilities to operate more effectively, and provide oversight through compliance monitoring. Click “Read more” to visit NJJN’s Web page for Louisiana.

[Read more]
Oklahoma and Rhode Island Work to Reduce Disproportionate Representation of Minorities in Juvenile Justice System

In Oklahoma, a number of agencies recently came together to sign a memorandum of understanding for the Tulsa County Disproportionate Minority Contact Reduction Initiative. The Tulsa Community Service Council is using a $75,000 grant from the Office of Juvenile Affairs’ State Advisory Group on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to launch a long-term project to reduce the number of minority youth in the juvenile justice system. The project will focus on all entry points into the system, not just confinement. Click here to read an article from the Tulsa World regarding the Initiative (“Youth Prosecutions Targeted: Area Agencies Will Pool Their Efforts to Reduce the Number of Minorities in the Juvenile Justice System,” Ginnie Graham, June 28).

Rhode Island for Community and Justice has been leading a statewide advisory committee to reduce disproportionate minority contact (DMC) through activities such as formulating standard guidelines for school resource officers, creating cultural competency training for police officers and others, and helping to restart the juvenile hearing board in Providence. The committee bases its work on a 2007 state-commissioned study that found white juveniles were less likely to be referred to Family Court than black juveniles for violent or potentially violent misdemeanors, at a rate of 65 percent to 79 percent, respectively. Click here to read an article from The Providence Journal regarding the advisory committee’s work (“Drive on to Reduce Rate of Minority Juvenile Offenders in R.I.,” Talia Buford, June 23).

Click here to learn more about NJJN’s member in Rhode Island, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. Click “Read more” to visit NJJN’s Web page on DMC.

[Read more]
New Jersey Creates Juvenile Transfer Task Force While New Report Calls for an End to Child Prosecutions in Wyoming Adult Courts

The New Jersey General Assembly passed a bill (A 973) to create a Juvenile Transfer Task Force to study, evaluate, and develop recommendations concerning the transfer of juveniles from the juvenile justice system to the adult criminal justice system. The bill cites a November 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, “Effects on Violence of Laws and Policies Facilitating the Transfer of Youth from the Juvenile to the Adult Justice System,” which finds that youth who are transferred to the adult criminal justice system are 34 percent more likely to reoffend than youth in the juvenile justice system. The task force must report its findings and recommendations within 12 months of the first organizational meeting.

A new report from the National Center for Youth Law, an NJJN partner, and the American Civil Liberties Union – Wyoming Chapter condemns Wyoming for commonly prosecuting children in adult courts, often for minor infractions such as smoking at school or stealing a pack of gum (“A Call to Stop Child Prosecutions in Wyoming Adult Courts,” Pat Arthur, Mikaela Rabinowitz and Jennifer Horvath, June 2010). The report notes that Wyoming stands apart from other states, trying 85 to 90 percent of youth in trouble with the law in adult courts.

Life Without Parole

Life without parole for children? -- San Diego Union Tribune
It is easy to understand the pain, anguish and desire for justice of people
who have suffered the loss of a loved one to violent crime. But justice is
not always easy to define. Virtually all first-degree murders are vicious
and senseless, almost by definition. A sentence of life without the
possibility of ever even being considered for parole is often the correct
definition of justice. But what if the killer was under 18 – a child under
the law? What if he or she had never before been in serious trouble? The U.S
Supreme Court has already ruled that killers under 18 cannot be subject to
the death penalty. But what about life without parole?

Legislature should pass Fair Sentencing for Youth Act -- Los Angeles Times
The Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, written by state Sen. Leland Yee (D- San
Francisco), would allow courts to review the cases of juveniles sentenced to
life without parole after they have served 10 years and allow some to be
resentenced to 25 years to life. Already passed by the Senate, the bill is
scheduled to be taken up by the Assembly on Thursday. What SB 399 would do
is bring California into closer accord with civilized sentencing norms and
standards. No other country sentences juveniles to life without parole. Yet
there are at least 270 serving such sentences in California prisons. SB 399
would also begin to align sentencing for juveniles with scientific evidence
about their neurological capabilities.

Computers can't replace human judgments here -- LA Daily News
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has quietly
embarked on a new and dangerous paradigm shift that replaces human judgment
with a computer program. Tens of thousands of critical parole decisions
regarding dangerous felons are now being made by a computer, rather than
parole experts. Under the new nonrevocable parole policy championed by CDCR,
state parolees who qualify are exempt from parole supervision and cannot be
sent back to prison for any parole violation. Because the public safety
consequences of releasing a felon onto NRP status are so dramatic,
determining who gets NRP should be made with the utmost care by parole
experts, not a computer.

CLICK HERE to read these stories and more at CDCR-STAR!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

S.C.Teen Heads To Adult Prison

Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010
SC teen who killed neighbor going to adult prison:
GREENVILLE, S.C. — A South Carolina teenager who raped and killed an 8-year-old neighbor is being transferred to adult prison to serve the rest of his 25-year sentence.
The Greenville News reports Samuel Young III is scheduled to be transferred from juvenile detention Wednesday, his 17th birthday.

Young pleaded guilty in May to involuntary manslaughter and first-degree criminal sexual conduct in the July 2008 death of Dymia Janae Woody. He was 14 at the time but charged as an adult.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Pennsylvania's Locking Up Kids For LIFE* LWOP

. Three cases involve robberies ending in murder committed by a codefendant. What does it say about a society that locks up juveniles and says they have no chance for redemption, rehabilitation, and change? Are prisons places to educate, discipline, and reform inmates - correctional institutions - or are they human warehouses to incarcerate people until they die? Joseph Ligon was 15 when he and five boys from South Philadelphia went on a crime spree, killing two men and stabbing six others. Ligon was sentenced to life without parole. In 1953. He's now 73. He has spent more than half a century in prison, mostly at Graterford.
"It's simply wrong to look upon him as the same person who committed the crimes," says Bradley S. Bridge of the Defender Association of Philadelphia. "He has done all that we, as a society, would want him to do," adding that "he's gone through rehabilitation." The Supreme Court's May decision and its 2005 ruling banning capital punishment of juveniles cite neuroscientific evidence of the developmental difference between children and adults. "Their brains are not fully formed. They don't understand the consequences of their actions. They're more susceptible to peer pressure," Bridge argues.

Pennsylvania's juvenile incarceration rate is so high because the state requires LWOP for all defendants convicted of first- or second-degree murder, whether they are adults or juveniles. This mandate deprives judges of discretionary sentencing. Following the crack epidemic of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when juvenile homicide rates soared, the state pushed more teens into the adult system, even for first-time offenses.

. "Punishment without rehabilitation is a failure," says Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montgomery), Judiciary Committee chair, who has held hearings on juvenile sentencing. "Everybody's entitled to second chances." Many inmates have committed horrible crimes. No one is protesting their innocence."

*Jacobson is handling the petition of John Pace, who committed a second-degree felony in Philadelphia at 17, during a robbery, assaulting a victim who later died. Upon advice of counsel, Pace pleaded guilty, believing he would receive a reduced sentence. Instead, he was sentenced to life without parole. A juvenile's failure to grasp the consequences of his actions as well as the complexity of the legal system puts him at a severe disadvantage compared with adults. Pace is now 42, having served almost a quarter-century at Graterford.Yet children grow. Teenagers can be dumb. They can do terribly wrong things. But they can learn."Kids have a capacity for change," says Levick. "They have a greater capacity for rehabilitation than adults." Children enter the criminal-justice system "without us knowing enough about them at the time of sentencing," she argues. Instead, Levick says, the approach is "let's lock them up and throw away the keys." Last month, State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson (D., Phila.) introduced a bill abolishing juvenile life imprisonment without parole, allowing prisoners to apply at age 31 for parole, then every three years thereafter. Current inmates could appeal for resentencing. Meanwhile, lawyers are hopeful their petitions will prod the judicial system to reexamine sentencing. At age 73, Ligon "looks like somebody's grandfather," Bridge says. "He's no longer a danger to anyone." He's lived almost all of his life in prison. "To continue his incarceration seems cruel and unseemly. It says something rather bad about our society when we do not allow people to demonstrate, by any objective criteria, that they have changed," Bridge says. "It's simply medieval."

Contact columnist Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or


Nicole Pittman, Esq
Juvenile Justice Policy Analyst Attorney
Defender Association of Philadelphia
1441 Sansom Street, Rm 1038
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Direct: 267.765.6766
Fax: 267.765.6993