Saturday, November 14, 2009

Growing Up in Prison

At what age do boys become men and girls become women? Is there an exact age that children become adults- when they are held fully responsible for their actions and choices? I do not believe that one can answer this. Why, then, are thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen year old children being sentenced to life in prison? Is this constitutional?
The Eighth Amendment states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
This issue was recently discussed in New York Times. Two major examples mentioned were about two boys named Joe Sullivan and Terrance Graham.
Sullivan, now 33 years old, was sentenced to die in prison at the age of 13 for a crime that did not even involve murder. He, an African American boy, and two older boys allegedly sexually assaulted a white girl while she was blindfolded. It has been said that Joe was a mentally disabled child who grew up in a home where he was sexually and physically abused. The boy, not even out of the adolescent stage, was sentenced to life in an adult prison. The two older accomplices received short –term juvenile detention. Was this legit?
Graham was also born into a bad family with crack-addicted parents and he had a learning disability. He had been on probation for a previous crime when he and older buddies participated in a home invasion. Graham was never actually convicted of the crime, but because he violated his curfew portion of probation, he was sentenced to life as a 16 year old African American boy. Was it coincidental that both boys were African American and had mental problems?
Regardless of the race of the boys and the situation that actually occurred, there is a problem whenever children are forced to grow up in prison. Yes, teenagers can make their own decisions; however, there is so much peer pressure going on in the adolescent stage that is hard to fight off if the child has not been taught well. Both of the boys mentioned had troubled home lives- does that play a role in the crimes committed? Could the parents be the ones to blame?
All children grow up differently and mature at different ages in life. The punishments that are being brought upon some teenagers are too harsh and unconstitutional. Each of these boys had no hope to better their life or prepare for the future. They were never given a chance as children, but were treated as adults. Sullivan and Graham have been and will continue growing up in prison. Hopefully no other innocent children will have to.

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