American injustice: Imprisoning children for life

Lawyers for an 11 year old child in Pennsylvania who allegedly shot and killed his father's pregnant fiancée worked hard to convince an appeals court not to hold him as an adult to prevent life imprisonment.

America's unsympathetic juvenile justice system has many questioning the morals of the court. In America a policy known as "life means life" allows children under the age of 18 to be tried as adults for certain crimes and can lead to life imprisonment without any chance of parole.

Like Somalia, the US has continually refused to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which would prohibit the American judicial system for holding children for live without the possibility of parole.

In the US state of Pennsylvania, where the case is being heard, all juvenile offenders are automatically treated as adults unless the judge specifically rules otherwise.

Jordan Brown, the child in question, is accused of casually shooting and killing his father's pregnant fiancée with a hunting rifle, and then going about his school day as normal. Prosecution argued evidence indicated the act was premeditated.

A number of human rights and child advocates have protested Brown’s treatment, alleging it violates international law.

Ashley Nellis, a research analyst with The Sentencing Project, a Washington bases advocacy organization, explained no other nation has children serving time in prison for life without parole and America’s system is extremely harsh on children.

“We have a very harsh tough-on-crime sentencing structure that prides itself on throwing away the key without regard to age, or maturity or level of knowledge,” she said. “International law, the international standard, is there is no life without parole sentencing for children.”

Brown’s case is, unfortunately, not unique.

There are 2,500 or so people serving life sentences without the opportunity for parole for crimes committed when they were under 18. Pennsylvania has more than any other state,” she said.

Many Americans are unaware the sentencing of children to life without any opportunity for parole even occurs.

We are trying to educate the public,” Nellis said. “The public is completely unaware that we have this practice when in fact there have been people sentenced to prison for life from the 60s that are still there.

It is important American’s know this is ongoing, so they can seek change, she explained.