by Madeline Bailey

Those opposed to harsh sentencing and the criminal “warehousing” of United States prisons rejoiced on May 17th  when the Supreme Court took a step to reduce extreme policies of punishment.

It was ruled that juveniles can no longer be sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes other than homicide.   The case of Graham v. Florida decided that the court must provide young offenders with some opportunity for hope and reform. This is a welcome retreat from punishment without the possibility for reconciliation and rehabilitation.

The principle argument voiced by dissenting parties was that drawing a “bright line” between childhood  and adulthood is dangerous, and often unfair.  Kent Scheidegger, Legal Director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, wrote in support of the state of Florida:  “Suppose two delinquents commit a brutal rape,  and the victim barely survives. The leader of the two is just short of his 18th birthday, while the follower is just past his. Must we say on the basis of age alone that the leader is ineligible for a life-without-parole sentence while the follower may receive that sentence?”

The United States’ low ranking on the Global Peace Index demonstrates the large role that high incarceration rates play in  cultivating a culture of peace in our society. Even as the ruling does allow for optimism, it remains difficult to create concrete division between those who are protected from harsh sentencing, and those who are not.

Should more be done? How can we move away from a dependence on harsh punishment policies?

Read more about Graham v. Florida in the New York Times

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