Circumventing a Supreme Court ruling
July 20, 2012 1 Comment
Iowa governor, Terry Branstad, pulled a fast one earlier this week. As a means of diminishing the Supreme Court’s June ruling regarding mandatory life without parole sentences, Governor Branstad commuted the sentences of 38 inmates who had received life without parole as juveniles to life with an option for parole at 60 years.
This means that if a 15 year-old received a life without parole sentence in Iowa, he would become eligible for parole at the age of 75. That’s the good news I suppose – that there is a parole option.
The bad news is that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, American males are expected to live, on average, until they are a little over 75 years old. I doubt the Census Bureau took into account factors that could influence a person’s lifespan, such as life-long exposure to the adult prison system.
Females tend to live longer than males. The Census Bureau reported that women in America live until they are approximately 80 years old on average. Again, these estimates do not take into account prison conditions and are generalized to the entire American population.
How is the option for parole after serving sixty years in prison not life without parole? Who is going to take care of these people if they are indeed paroled at age 75 or older? Is there anyone who truly believes that any of these people will be granted parole, or that they won’t be completely institutionalized if they are?
It’s absurd and it’s offensive. It not only undermines a ruling instituted by the highest court in this nation, but it mocks that ruling at the very same time.
The Court’s June ruling eliminated mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles, but it did not take the option completely off the table. Instead, it appears to have left a number of doors wide open for states to circumvent the decision through means such as those described above.
Instead of allowing each person’s case to return to court for individual review based on the person’s age at the time of the crime, circumstances surrounding the crime, progress while incarcerated, and other potentially mitigating factors, Branstad slammed the door to a second chance, for all who received the sentence at or after the age of fourteen, shut.
United States Senator Tom Harkin disagrees with Governor Branstad’s decision. Harkin suggested that the focus should be on rehabilitation. He added, “Maybe there’s some that are just so violent or something they have to stay (in prison), but this ought to be left up to parole boards and district attorneys, state jurisprudence offices to take a look at that.”
With regard to this particular decision, I have to agree with Harkin wholeheartedly.