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Quick and Dirty

Minority Report

By Christina Royster-Hemby | Posted 11/16/2005

Two weeks ago, two human-rights organizations accused the United States of discarding the lives of at least 2,225 juvenile offenders, those serving life sentences in prison without the possibility of parole. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued a report called “The Rest of Their Lives: Life Without Parole for Child Offenders in the United States” that accused this country of being the only one in the world that punishes juveniles so severely. The report also gave state-by-state demographics of juveniles incarcerated for life across the U.S.

According the report, which claims to be the “first ever national analysis of life without parole (LWOP) sentences for children,” in 2004 there were 13 individuals in Maryland serving life without parole for crimes they committed when they were children. This year, two more child offenders have joined the ranks of those serving life, raising the number to 15. Twelve of the 15 inmates serving LWOP sentences are African-American and three are white, according to the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Fourteen of the 15 were convicted of murder in the first degree; one was convicted of felony homicide.

Juvenile justice advocates argue that these sentences provide another example of how black youth are treated badly by criminal justice systems in Maryland and across the nation. According to the Amnesty/Human Rights Watch report, an overwhelming majority of youth serving LWOP sentences across the country are black. For example, the national average for youth serving LWOP sentences is 1.8 per 100,000 children nationwide, but the number of black youth serving LWOP sentences is 6.6 per 10,000. Hispanic youth are only 1.1 per 10,000 of that same population, and white youth make up only 0.6 per 10,000.

“Youth of color are treated severely and more harshly than white youth at every step in the process,” says Liz Ryan, campaign manger for Campaign 4 Youth Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based organization attempting to raise awareness about how the criminal justice system treats young offenders. Ryan points out that other reports show that 92 percent of cases filed in adult criminal courts in Baltimore City involve minority juveniles.

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