When he was 16, Dietrick Mitchell of Denver made a terrible mistake. After drinking all day with two other teens, he got behind the wheel of a car. While trying to evade a policeman who was following him, he struck and killed a 16-year-old pedestrian. Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in an adult penitentiary. That was 13 years ago. Dietrick now is 30. If he lives to be 70, Colorado taxpayers will pay another $2 million, on top of an estimated $650,000 already spent, to jail him until he dies, reports the Colorado Springs Independent in an examination of harsh sentences for teenagers.
The Colorado legislature has considered a proposal designed to give youths convicted as adults in Colorado courts the possibility of alternative sentencing. The bill, sponsored by Colorado Springs Representative Lynn Hefley, also would have changed existing sentencing structures that require juveniles convicted of Felony 1 murder to be sentenced to life without parole in adult prison. The bill provided for restorative justice programs, including the union of victims with offenders and requirements that parolees speak publicly about their offenses and imprisonment with community organizations, schools and church groups. In essence, Hefley was proposing the possibility of a second chance for all juvenile criminals, even those who have committed serious violent crimes.