A St. Petersburg Times op-ed co-authored by Berkeley Law juvenile justice professor Franklin Zimring argues that Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is misguidedly defending his state’s life without possibility of parole sentences for 13- to 16-year-olds.
McCollum recently filed a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in Graham v. Florida, a constitutional challenge to laws permitting life sentences without parole for young teens. The op-ed contends that testing such laws’ effectiveness can only be done by learning if states that impose life imprisonment on young teens experience lower proportions of violent crime among similarly-aged offenders than states that don’t.
But a search of FBI crime totals for patterns that would occur if the prospect of life without parole deterred juveniles “comes up empty” and finds “no evidence” that Florida’s laws produced significant crime declines among young teens. The op-ed also criticizes Florida’s brief for not presenting any evidence that its sentencing policies produced fewer crimes.
The authors note that in 1996, as a member of Congress, McCollum warned of a “coming storm” of crime caused by a population surge of children from fatherless homes—only to see U.S. juvenile homicide arrests drop by half. The complete op-ed is available here.