Juvenile Injustice in Colorado

June 13 2005, 10:19 AM

Diane Carman has an excellent column in Sunday's Denver Post, Juvenile Injustice Inexcusable. Raul Gomez-Garcia, if tried in Colorado for the murder of Detective Don Young, will not face a sentence of life without parole. While that's a good call by Denver D.A. Mitch Morrissey, it highlights the fact that there are 50 juvenile offenders in Colorado prisons who have received harsher sentences -- life without parole for offenses committed when they were under 18. Who are these kids?

Twenty-two of the youth offenders serving life in our prisons were convicted of felony murder, Pendulum Foundation director Mary Ellen Johnson said. That means they're doing life for robberies or other felonies in which somebody else actually committed murder. For most of them, it was their first offense, according to the report released this year by Human Rights Watch. Some of them were homeless kids. Some were drug addicts. A disproportionate number are African-American males. ....Human Rights Watch calls the situation in Colorado "cruel, unfair and unnecessary." The Pendulum Foundation calls it unconstitutional.

Bills have been introduced to remedy the situation, but none have met with success. Governor Owens this year vetoed a bill that would have created a task force to study the issue. This is an issue that should concern us all. We know that juvenile brains are not fully developed at 14 and 15. Many of these kids don't have adequate judgment-making skills. They may not be competent to stand trial in the sense that they can't understand the nature of the proceedings or assist their counsel in their defense. As Carman says,

At the very least, Colorado's young offenders deserve to be treated no worse than a foreign national accused of killing a cop. They deserve a second chance.