[OP-ED]: The Absurdity Of Excusing Adult Misconduct As Acts Of Immaturity
With news dominated by the misconduct of President Trump, members of his family and administration, a recent ruling in a Philadelphia courtroom received less attention than it deserved.
That ruling involved a man who spent the past 30-years in prison for a murder he committed in Philadelphia when he was a teen. That man, Kempis Songster, acknowledged responsibility for that crime committed when he was a 15-year-old runaway working inside a crack house. That court action granted Songster a new sentence that could free him from prison in the fall on parole.
Songster, who earned a college degree in prison and praise for starting programs that help inmates reform, is one of the approximately 2,500 people in U.S. prisons serving life sentences for involvement in murders that occurred before they were 18-years-old.
The United States is the only country in the world that sentences teens to life-without-parole. Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction as the state with the largest number of prisoners serving juvenile life-without-parole sentences. Over half of those juvenile lifers received their sentence in Philadelphia. And, consistent with embedded racism in Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system, blacks and Latinos comprise the largest number of Pa’s juvenile lifers.
Punishment is proper for persons who commit crimes, regardless of their age. However, a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling stated juvenile-life-without-parole sentences are improper, largely because teens are immature. As a May 2017 Sentencing Project report stated: “Sentences that close the door on rehabilitation and second-chances are cruel and misguided.”
Some assert that giving a second chance to anyone involved in a murder in anyway is repugnant.
What’s really repugnant is governmental authorities proclaiming teens strictly accountable for their actions asserting teens have or should have the maturity of adults while also making excuses for adults who break the law, including claiming the errant acts of adults arose from their immaturity.
On the same day of that Philadelphia court proceeding for Kempis Songster, a 36-year-old top aide to President Trump – Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner – told some U.S. Senators on Capitol Hill that immaturity caused him to engage in activities during the past year that could lead to criminal charges against Kushner.
Trump’s oldest son, 39-year-old Donald Jr., recently used the immaturity excuse to blunt responsibility for his potentially illegal act of holding a secret 2016 meeting with a Russian government representative who promised to give Don Jr. materials that would help his father win the White House.
Three of the seven Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices who issued a 2013 ruling erecting barriers for juvenile lifers inconsistent with the letter-&-spirit of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling were later ensnared in the infamous Porngate sexist/racist email scandal. Authorities forced two of those three justices to resign. One of those disgraced justices, Michael Eakin, initially defended his Porngate involvement as just locker room antics among ‘boys’ – a different facet of the immaturity excuse.
Philadelphia juvenile lifer Robert Holbrook, in a 2008 essay, slammed teen life sentences as ugly vengeance not justice.