been a lot of discussion over the past few years regarding prison sentencing
reform. This comes from overcrowded prisons, the cost that comes with extended
imprisonment, and the morally just way to rehabilitate someone following a
criminal conviction. Recently, there has been a lot of traction regarding
criminal sentencing reform for minors. Representative Bruce Westerman from
Arkansas is leading the charge to reform the way that the justice system of the
federal government handles the criminal sentencing of minors. He recently
introduced a legislative package to change the way that minors are sentenced
following a criminal conviction.
Package with Three Separate Bills
that was proposed by Westerman includes three separate bills. These are:
is a bill that is attracting support on both sides of the aisle. In this bill,
minors would be exempted from the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for
the crimes that they committed if they were against individuals who were
trafficking them. Child trafficking has been a major issue for decades and this
bill is named for an individual who received two decades in prison for
murdering someone who was trafficking her. As trafficked minors are always a
sympathetic group, this bill has strong support.
Life-Sentencing: The second bill that
Westerman introduced would prohibit minors from being sentenced to life in
prison without the possibility of parole if the crime was committed prior to
their 18th birthday. It will be tougher to get this bill through Congress as it
lacks the same sympathetic appeal of Sara’s Act.
third bill in the package would require that parole boards think about the
“diminished culpability” of minors when discussing a release date.
Specifically, the bill reduces the culpability of minors relative to adults who
are being paroled for a similar offense. The idea would be that if minors are
less culpable when compared to adults who committed a similar crime, the minor
should be released sooner.
of the Bills: The First Steps
While it is
unlikely that all three of these bills will be passed, the legislation
represents a step in the right direction. Even though the first bill, which is
likely to pass, has a narrow scope, this legislation has moved the discussion
on criminal sentencing reforms for minors in the right direction. The focus of
criminal sentencing for minors needs to be placed on rehabilitation instead of
punishment. The bill introduced by Representative Bruce Westerman does just
that. There is an opportunity to make real progress on this tough issue.