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Rep. Tony Cárdenas Introduces Resolution Eliminating Juvenile Life Sentences

First Posted: Jul 28, 2015 05:07 PM EDT
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U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., has called for the elimination of life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles.

The San Fernando Valley congressman introduced a Congressional Resolution, which noted more than 2,500 children have been sentenced to life in prison, but the U.S. is the only country that allows life sentences without the possibility of parole.

"We are a nation built on second chances, and on the potential of human life," Cárdenas said in a statement.

"Yet, when it comes to our children, we have decided to be as punitive and destructive as possible. Even though we know that the brain of a child is different than that of an adult, and that therefore children are far less likely to understand the impact of their actions and far more likely to be rehabilitated, we still have thrown away thousands of lives, locking children in cages until they die."

Based on testimony submitted by Youth First! Initiative President and CEO Liz Ryan to the House Oversight Committee's Hearing on Criminal Justice, there are approximately 80,000 youths in a detention or correctional facility, including 20,000 in juvenile detention centers. Ryan stated 1-in-4 youths placed in youth prisons or other out-of-home confinement within the juvenile justice system have committee serious violent crimes, ranging from aggravated assault, robbery, rape or homicide.

"Youth face physical abuse, excessive use of force by facility staff, sexual abuse, over-reliance on isolation and restraints, staff on youth violence, and youth on youth violence," Ryan wrote.

In regards to Latinos, Ryan recognized Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. Among Latino youth, 40 percent are more likely than white youth to be admitted to adult prison and 1.8 times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth.

"Incarceration also puts kids further behind in school," Ryan added.

"Education for youth inside of correctional facilities often is not aligned with state curricula or quality standards as shown by a ground breaking study released by the Southern Education Foundation in 2014 that says, 'The data shows that both state and local juvenile justice systems are failing profoundly in providing adequate, effective education in the south and the nation.'"

Ryan mentioned that nearly two-thirds of young people do not return to school after release from secure custody.

"Sentencing an American child to die in prison is unacceptable and must end," Cárdenas stated.

The resolution, H.Res.382, has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Must Read: Despite Growing Anti-Immigration Rhetoric in Congress, Partisan Latino Groups Fail to Compromise  

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Update: Article amended to note more than 2,500 children have been sentenced to life in prison, not 25,000. 

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