Criminal Sentencing Reform for Minors

Posted On - April 4th, 2019 | By Jennifer Long | Category - Uncategorized

There has 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.

A Package with Three Separate Bills

The package that was proposed by Westerman includes three separate bills. These are:

Sara’s Act: This 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.

Diminished Culpability: The 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.

Passage 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.