Jones v. Mississippi-the end of an era?

The Supreme Court without a doubt delivered a sucker punch to the gut with its decision in Jones– a sentencing authority need not find a juvenile is permanently incorrigible before imposing a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. [i]

Did Kavanaugh and co. end the forward progress of distinguishing children from adults in the criminal justice system that defined the Kennedy-era court? Let’s take a look back and a step forward to assess the damage.

In Roper, Kennedy relied on science to determine adolescents are different than adults in holding that the death penalty for juveniles was unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual.”[ii] These three key differences included: (1) a “lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility”; (2) children are “more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures”; and (3) their “personality traits … are more transitory, less fixed.” [iii]

These fundamental differences were the basis of subsequent Supreme Court decisions affecting children in the juvenile justice system. In Graham v. Florida, the court held that it was unconstitutional for a juvenile offender to be sentenced to life without parole for non-homicidal offenses with Kennedy writing for the majority: “[j]uveniles are more capable of change than are adults, and their actions are less likely to be evidence of ‘irretrievably depraved character’ than are the actions of adults.”[iv] In J.D.B. v. North Carolina, the Court held that a child’s age is relevant for the Miranda custody analysis[v] and in Miller v. Alabama, the court held that mandatory life without the possibility of parole for juveniles was unconstitutional.[vi]

A few things to keep in mind post-Jones as detailed in Kristina Kersey’s article “Keeping up with the Jonses 10 Things I Kinda Maybe Don’t hate About Jones” (please see her article for a humor-filled spin on Jones with a more detailed analysis)[vii]:

  1. The Kennedy-era cases and their oft-cited language remain intact;
  2. States are allowed to provide additional limits;
  3. The “permanently incorrigible” standard is inconsistent with the science that laid the foundation in Roper and it progeny;
  4. Making youth a mitigating factor as opposed to a criteria requiring a finding of fact regarding incorrigibility allows for more creative arguments;
  5. All the conservative Justices agreed that age plays a role in sentencing; and
  6. When all else fails, skip to Sotomayor’s dissent and pretend it’s the opinion.

With the Court’s shift to the right, the road ahead may appear bumpier post-Jones, but hey, that’s never stopped us before.

[i] Jones v. Mississippi, 141 S. Ct. 1307, 1317 (2021).

[ii] Esther Hong, “Justice Kennedy’s Justice for Juveniles: Roper’s Reach” (OxHRH Blog, 26 November 2018), <https://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/justice-kennedys-justice-for-juveniles-ropers-reach> [October 29, 2021].

[iii] Id.

[iv] Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 68 (2010).

[v] Hong, supra note 2.

[vi] Id.

[vii] Kristina Kersey, Keeping up with the Jones 10 Things I Kinda Maybe Don’t Hate About Jones, Nat’l Juvenile Def. Ctr. (July 2, 2021), https://njdc.info/wp-content/uploads/Keeping-up-with-the-Joneses-7-2.pdf.

 

3 Stories You May Have Missed During #YJAM

1) Earlier this month, WPLN in partnership with ProPublica published an investigation into wrongdoing in the juvenile justice system in Rutherford County, Tennessee. The story centers around the 2016 arrest of ten black elementary school students who had been caught on video witnessing a fight; the children were charged with “criminal responsibility for the conduct of another,” which is not in fact a punishable offense under the state’s criminal code. Investigators uncovered grossly problematic judicial oversight and widespread departmental misconduct—including the use of an illegal “filter system” for processing juveniles into detention—in a county that jails children at a rate nearly 10 times the national average.

https://wpln.org/post/black-children-were-jailed-for-a-crime-that-doesnt-exist-almost-nothing-happened-to-the-adults-in-charge/

As a result of this reporting, eleven members of Congress have petitioned the Department of Justice to conduct an official investigation into Rutherford County’s juvenile justice system.

https://wpln.org/post/members-of-congress-are-asking-for-an-investigation-into-rutherford-countys-juvenile-court-following-wplns-report/

2) Last week, the New York Times published an article detailing the abuse faced by children in Texas’ juvenile detention centers. According to interviewees, detention facilities are short-staffed—partly due to the pandemic—and without adequate supervision, kids confined to their rooms grow restless and are more likely to act out. Staff members have resorted to the use of physical violence to maintain order: unruly detainees have been subjected to beatings, pepper spray, as well as solitary confinement. These problems have persisted in the state’s juvenile justice system for decades despite numerous reform efforts and lawsuits brought by various child advocacy organizations.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/13/us/politics/texas-juvenile-prisons-abuse.html

3) Just this week, over 200 people imprisoned for crimes committed as juveniles in Oregon may become eligible for parole hearings or conditional releases under Governor Kate Brown’ s new commutation plan. The plan operates as a sort of constitutional salve for inmates serving time under the state’s mandatory sentencing measures regarding serious offenses. The governor’s order—which some experts have called “unprecedented”— emphasizes the importance of adolescent development considerations and the potential for rehabilitation for individuals incarcerated at a young age.

https://www.opb.org/article/2021/10/21/oregon-governor-grants-review-hearing-for-some-juvenile-offenders/

https://kobi5.com/news/local-news/hundreds-of-oregons-serious-juvenile-offenders-may-be-granted-clemency-under-commutation-plan-171229/

Being Aware of the School-to-Prison Pipeline Many Minorities Fall Victim to

Rehabilitation efforts are key to addressing the school-to-prison pipeline. Resources are of the essence when it comes to these situations. Yet, there is a lack of these resources when it comes to the criminal justice system seeping into the educational environments. The result of this causes children to be removed from their education and directed into the prison system.

Throughout the United States in 2000, there were over three million school suspensions and over 97,000 expulsions.” The punitive actions taken on these children show them that they are “bad children,” which can build a belief with themselves that they don’t belong in an educational environment. These punitive actions are not positive actions taken to aid children, yet they are more negative and escalate the bad behavior the children are having. In many cases, there are educators and guidance counselors who want to help these troubled youth but the resources at their exposure are not enough to provide the help these children need. Additionally, many of these children have disabilities that are not addressed as stated, “in some states such as Florida and Maine, as many as 60% of all juvenile offenders have disabilities that affect their ability to learn.” The children’s need for help is high, yet their needs cannot be met with the level of resources that is available to them.

Minorities, specifically Black children are hurting the most from insufficient resources when it comes to the school-to-prison pipeline. As stated, “in 2000, African Americans represented only 17% of public school enrollment nationwide but accounted for 34% of suspensions.12 Likewise, in 2003, African-American youths made up 16% of the nation’s overall juvenile population but accounted for 45% of juvenile.” These disparities are part of an ongoing racist, stereotype system that has been in the US for hundreds of years. Moreover, the quality of education in many Black neighborhoods is poor and places many of these Black children in unfortunate situations. The situations the Black children face may lead them to be treated unfairly. History has shown that minorities have been victims of unequal educational opportunities and educational funding. The inequality from this has led to the suffering of many children to misbehave or skip school. When these actions are taken by these children the punitive consequences are then handed to them, where it creates a cycle of continued misbehavior. That cycle then results in many of these children being placed in prison at a young age and never having the chance to be rehabilitated to do better for themselves and their families.

A way to fight the school-to-prison pipeline is to investigate ways schools discipline their children. Create better practices for the troubled youth to help them understand their skills and abilities. Being able to lift someone’s spirits can go a long way. Additionally, provide the children with better guidance by having a counselor, building a success plan, providing mediation/after-school programs, and anything that will bring a smile to the children’s faces. Many times, troubled youth just need someone to talk to about what is going on in their life, and to have someone at times needed to have that conversation can be valuable to the child’s future success.

On October 21, 2021, from 4-5 pm the University of Houston is having a free virtual seminar titled “Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” You can RSVP here: https://cloudapps.uh.edu/sendit/l/TfPadoe0dATtluDVszZAwQ/vuj6ArX8eJiymXcuifQ9Yg/nKHYspsdU75Esbp7LuY763LA