Bishops encourage changes in incarceration of minors

Bishop Stephen E Blaire 2 CNA US Catholic News 6 14 12 Bishop Stephen E. Blaire.

The U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development has joined with more than 100 other organizations to call for more fair prison sentencing for minors.

"Life sentences without parole eliminate the opportunity for rehabilitation or second chances," said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., who chairs the committee.

"While there is no question that violent and dangerous youth need to be confined for their safety and that of society," he said in a Jan. 30 statement, the bishops' conference "does not support provisions that treat children as though they are equal to adults in their moral and cognitive development."

The bishops' committee is one of scores of groups that have endorsed the Statement of Principles of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. These principles urge an end to sentencing minors to life in prison without possibility of parole.

 Other supporters include the United Methodist Church, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and the Muslim Public Affairs Council, as well as groups of parents, mental health experts and child welfare proponents.

The bishops' committee agreed to endorse the statement during their December 2012 meeting.

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 38 states and the federal government allow convicted minors to be sentenced to life without parole, and there are currently more than 2,500 young people serving such a sentence.

The bishops also reference a 2008 report by Human Rights Watch, stating that African American minors 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," the conference noted.

The bishops had previously spoken about the incarceration of minors in their 2000 document, "Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice."

"Placing children in adult jails is a sign of failure, not a solution," they said.

Jody Kent Lavy, director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, voiced gratitude for the endorsement, saying that the organization welcomes the chance to work with the bishops, who are leading defenders of "the rights of our most vulnerable."

"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," Lavy said.

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