The Court is Right: Children are 'Constitutionally Different.'

Individuals told as children that they are unworthy of ever living again in a free society have renewed hope this week because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision reaffirming its call to hold young people accountable in age-appropriate ways. Now it is up to resentencing courts and parole authorities to ensure that happens. The Supreme Court's historic ruling, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, held as retroactive its 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama, which banned mandatory life without parole sentences for children. Montgomery is the fourth decision from our nation's highest court in just over a decade establishing that children are “constitutionally different” from adults, and that their child status is therefore relevant to sentencing—thereby making them less deserving of our harshest available punishments. In the 6-3 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court said, “Miller… did more than require a sentencer to consider a juvenile offender's youth before imposing life without parole; it established that the penological justifications for life without parole collapse in light of 'the distinctive attributes of youth.'” But the ruling alone does not guarantee that individuals eligible for relief will be granted their due meaningful opportunities for second chances.

A Good Week for Juvenile Justice, But the Work Isn't Done

It's been a big week for young people in the justice system. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that those previously sentenced to life without parole as juveniles must have at least a chance at life outside prison walls. And President Obama's subsequent ban, announced the same day, on solitary confinement for young people in federal prisons marks another critical acknowledgment of how we need to think about young people in prison. These recognitions—of both science and the human capacity for change—feel like justice. They are steps in the right direction.

Rethinking Criminal Intent: Why ‘Mens Rea’ Matters

In order for the government to legally prosecute, convict and punish someone, in most cases it must prove that the person committed the criminal act (known as actus reus) and that he or she committed that act with criminal intention (mens rea). There are a variety of terms used to describe mens rea, including moral blameworthiness, a guilty mind, an evil mind, conscious will, or willful action. Mens rea is a foundational element of American jurisprudence. The U.S. Supreme Court made it quite clear in 2015 in Elonis v. United States that mens rea is what distinguishes wrongful conduct from otherwise innocent conduct. It determines whom we hold criminally responsible.

'Coercive Suicide': Identifying the Suicidal Mass Killer

It has become increasingly obvious that suicide and mass killings are intertwined. Suicide evaluation should become a tool for threat assessment. A brief mnemonic device [see below] can help police and other authorities decide if a person is a danger to himself and others. A good example is the opportunity that police had in April 2014 when the parents of Elliott Rodger, a 22-year-old California college student, asked for a welfare check. Officers visited his apartment and had a brief conversation with Rodger.

Corrections Reform Isn't Just About Cutting Prison Populations

Population data just released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) show a continued modest decline in the number of people supervised in U.S. correctional systems, averaging a 1 percent decrease annually from 2007 to 2014. This reduction is somewhat greater than the decline in the prison population for this period, and in large part it reflects changes in the number of people under probation supervision. While in recent years there has been an increasing focus on challenging mass incarceration, less attention has been devoted to examining corrections populations overall. The new BJS report underscores the importance of adding this dimension to a reform strategy. The overall decline in corrections populations is encouraging but, as with the prison population figures, it's clear that the national trends remain quite modest.

How U.S. Policy Aids Cuban Crime Rings

In September, police in Grand Rapids, MI arrested four people for skimming credit account numbers from gas pumps, copying the data onto new cards, and using them to buy thousands of dollars in gift cards at big box retailers. These were not local Michigan crooks, however. They were Cuban citizens living in South Florida. Across the U.S., Cuban crime rings are quietly stealing billions of dollars from U.S. businesses and taxpayers. It's a phenomenon we at the Sun Sentinel documented extensively in January 2015 in a series of investigative reports: Plundering America: The Cuban Criminal Pipeline.

A Death Sentence By Any Other Name is Still a Death Sentence

Apparently, America is losing its stomach for state-imposed death—if prompted by the injection of lethal drugs into the body of the condemned. However, if death is the result of a long, lonely, pointless life behind bars, America is still on board. Many opposed to the death penalty are celebrating what appears to be the beginning of the end of capital punishment. However, there is another kind of death penalty thriving in America: Life in prison without the possibility of parole— a more subtle, yet real, sentence of death. There are about 3,000 inmates on death rows around the U.S. According to the Sentencing Project, more than 49,000 men and women are serving life without parole.

Wrongful Convictions: Is the Tide Shifting?

One winter night in 1990, a Philadelphia barber named Muhammad Don Ray Adams was cutting a neighbor's hair when gunshots rang out a few blocks away. He kept right on barbering; gunshots were just part of the evening soundtrack in North Philly. But a few hours later, he got word that cops were eyeing him as the gunman. The buzz around the neighborhood was that someone named Don Ray had fired the shots, killing two drug dealers. Eyewitnesses had described the killer as tall and light skinned; Adams was five-foot-four, dark skinned, stocky and went by “Muhammad.”