Colorado has 45 young men and one woman in who were juveniles when they committed murders that got them locked away forever–one of every eight lifers in the state, says the Rocky Mountain News in the first of a series on the subject. A debate over how to handle such cases is playing out nationwide, putting many states, including Colorado, under a spotlight. The issue is whether “such unyielding sentences are appropriate for those arguably too young to fully understand or control their actions? Or, are their crimes – all murders – so heinous that the risk is simply too great to ever give them a chance at freedom?”
After the U.S. Supreme Court in March ruled the death penalty unconstitutional for anyone younger than 18, advocates including the international Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Colorado Springs-based Pendulum Foundation see eliminating mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles as the next logical step. “In a majority of cases, these people could become thoughtful, sensitive, remorseful adults,” said Steven Drizin, a Northwestern University law professor who co-authored a brief cited by the Supreme Court in its ruling striking down the death penalty for juveniles. Prosecutors see the sentences as a crucial deterrent to a crime rate that, a decade ago, seemed out of control.