End the Practice of Sentencing Children to Life in Prison Without Parole

H5183, the Act Relating to Criminals – Correctional Institutions – Parole, is sponsored by Reps Blazejewski, Barros, Ajello, Amore, and Ranglin- Vassell. It would require children sentenced to life in prison to have the opportunity for parole after (a maximum) of 15 years. The Senate passed the companion bill, S0237, and now it’s time to pressure the House to make this bill law.

In January, the house recommended measure be held for further study in the Judiciary Committee  The members on the committee must be contacted and told to bring the bill to a vote.

If your rep is on the committee, CALL THEM and tell them to vote H5183 out of committee. (Find their contact information here.)

Script if your rep is on the committee: I’m (name) and I live in your district at (address). I’m calling to tell Rep. (name) that I expect them to help bring H5183 to the floor for a vote. Children should not be sentenced to life in prison without parole, and this bill will ensure that they are given a chance at a true life outside prison walls. Rep. (name) should stand up for children, and vote to pass this bill.

If your rep is not on the committee, CALL THEM and tell them to pressure their colleagues to bring it to the floor, and to vote for it once it arrives. (Find their contact information here.)

Script if your rep is not on the committee: I’m (name) and I live in your district at (address). I’m calling to tell Rep. (name) that I expect them to vote H5183 out of committee and to the House floor for a vote. Children should not be sentenced to life in prison without parole, and this bill will ensure that they are given a chance at a true life outside prison walls. Rep. (name) should stand up for children, and vote to pass this bill.

The United States stands (almost) alone

International law prohibits sentencing children to death in prison. Yet the majority of states in the US, including Rhode Island, continue to allow the sentence of life in prison without parole for children of any age. The United States was the only country of 197 countries that did not sign on as a “State Party” to a the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which made the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without parole forbidden.

Sentencing minors to life terms sends an unequivocal message to young people that they are beyond redemption, but research on a child’s developmental and emotional state has proven this false. The US Supreme Court has used research on children in overturning cruel and unusual sentences, noting that adolescence is marked by “transient rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences.”

Under the proposed legislation, H5183, juveniles who are sentenced as adults would automatically come before the parole board after a maximum of fifteen years, regardless of the length of their sentence, giving these young adults the chance to prove their fitness to return to society.

Many children who have been sentenced to die in prison for crimes come from violent and dysfunctional backgrounds. Research has shown that juveniles subjected to trauma, abuse, and neglect suffer from cognitive underdevelopment, lack of maturity, decreased ability to restrain impulses, and susceptibility to outside influences greater even than those suffered by normal teenagers.

The Campaign for Fair Sentencing for Youth, Rhode Island Parole Board Chairwoman Laura A. Pisaturo, and representatives of the Diocese of Providence and the American Civil Liberties Union all testified in support of the bill. Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski, D-Providence, is sponsoring companion legislation (2017-H 5183) in the House.

Learn more about juvenile justice, and children sentenced to life without parole in the video below, featuring Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.