In this era in which politicians try to outdo each other in who can be tougher on crime and when you wouldn't know from the ads whether you're listening to candidates for county sheriff or judge, Mr. Gingrich brings a little bit of sanity back to the discussion.
And, yes, I know just how bizarre that sounds.
We did some dumb things as teenagers that might have caused a lot of harm. You probably did, too. Fortunately, we didn’t hurt anyone too badly, but we cringe now at how clueless we were about the possible consequences of what we did.
Teenagers often don’t make very good decisions. Our laws take this into account in many ways: We don’t let young people drink until they are 21, and they can’t sign contracts, vote or serve on juries until they are 18.
But there is one area in which we ignore teens’ youth and impulsiveness: our criminal laws. Our laws often ignore the difference between adults and teens, and some youngsters are sentenced to life in prison without parole (LWOP). Despite urban legends to the contrary, this law has no exceptions: A teen sentenced to LWOP will die in prison as an old man or woman. No exceptions for good behavior, no exceptions period. No hope.
In an editorial in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Mr. Gingrich and his like-minded colleague, Pat Nolan, demonstrate that those Right on Crime guys can come up with some new ideas that actually make sense.
Leave it to the right wingers to realize that locking someone up in a cell for the rest of their life for something they did as a teenager isn't the best of ideas. Maybe they can afford to look at crime and punishment in a realistic manner because they have their conservative stripes. Maybe it's because Gingrich isn't running for office anymore and can afford to say what he thinks. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that he is right.
When we lock up our youth to spend the rest of their days in prison we are writing off a generation. We are telling kids that they aren't worth our time and effort. Just think of the things you did when you were a teenager. Some of them were quite stupid. And what might have happened if things worked out just a bit differently? Could you have been the one at the defense table looking at spending the rest of your days in a cell?
Too bad this isn't part of our national conversation this fall. It might be quite revealing.
H/T Doug Berman (Sentencing Law and Policy)