WASHINGTON—A committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has endorsed the principles of a national campaign to end the practice of sentencing people under the age of 18 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development agreed to endorse the Statement of Principles for the Fair Sentencing of Youth at their December 2012 meeting.
“While there is no question that violent and dangerous youth need to be confined for their safety and that of society, the USCCB does not support provisions that treat children as though they are equal to adults in their moral and cognitive development,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the committee. “Life sentences without parole eliminate the opportunity for rehabilitation or second chances.”
In their 2000 document, “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice,” the bishops wrote, “Placing children in adult jails is a sign of failure, not a solution.”
More than 100 organizations have endorsed the Statement of Principles of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, including a diverse array of faith-based organizations such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. Supporters also include groups representing law enforcement officials, victims’ families, mental health experts, parents, teachers and child welfare advocates.
“We welcome the opportunity to partner with USCCB, a national leader defending the rights of our most vulnerable,” said Jody Kent Lavy, director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “We support the Church’s efforts to promote the greater good by ensuring that children are held accountable for the harm that they have caused in age-appropriate ways that uphold their human dignity and focus on rehabilitation and reintegration into society.”
The federal government and 38 states allow youth convicted of a crime to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Currently, over 2,500 youth are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. African American youth are sentenced to life without parole as children at a per capita rate that is 10 times that of white youth convicted of the same crimes. The United States is the only country that imposes this sentence upon children.