Andy McKay

Aug 06, 2007

Life without hope


Read this article in the Guardian on Saturday about the high numbers of children in US jails, jailed for life without the possibility of parole. The case of Nicole Ann Dupure seemed particular sad. Her boyfriend at the time and her were accused of murdering and robbing an old lady for $30.

But shortly before he went on trial he changed his evidence and put Dupure alongside him at the scene of the murder. In return, the prosecution agreed he should be given the lesser charge of second-degree murder and avoid lifelong incarceration. Under cross-examination, he conceded to the jury, "I never had intentions to pin it on her until I ran out of options."
Blevins got 20 to 50 years, with the hope of reducing his sentence through good behaviour. Dupure got life without parole, with no forensic evidence tying her to the crime and entirely on the strength of Blevins' testimony.

Jailed at 17, she will never be set free and can never apply for parole. The idea of justice as persecution has never seemed right to me, it must be about reform. But that seems impossible in this system:

The US is among a tiny minority of countries (Somalia is another) that have refused to sign up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that expressly forbids the practice. According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, only three other countries - Israel, South Africa and Tanzania - mete out the sentence and they have collectively just 12 prisoners serving it.
Technically, a child of any age could be incarcerated for life in Michigan for first-degree murder.

An Amnesty International report on the same issue reports:

An estimated 26% of child offenders were convicted of "felony murder", which holds that anyone involved in the commission of a serious crime during which someone is killed is also guilty of murder, even if he or she did not personally or directly cause the death.

And:

A survey found that 59% of the convictions were for first time offenders.

Amnesty USA

Yes the acts have been terrible, but this punishment is wrong. It's hard to think back to when I was 14 (as was Matthew Bentley in the Guardian case) and think how little I knew about what I was doing and sometimes my lack of empathy for others. Over the course of a lifetime people change and whatever forms of retribution are needed by society must paid at some point.