This statement was also written by Saleem, this time for the segment of our April 5th march and rally that took place outside of the Criminal Justice Center. In this statement he specifically addresses the need to end Juvenile Life Without Parole. The video shows the statement being read in front of CJC.
**Statement for Decarcerate PA Action Day, April 5th, CJC
Children are the most vulnerable segment of any society because their lives and rights are entrusted to the society they belong to. Children are also the most preyed upon segment of the so-called criminal justice system by both those claiming to uphold the law and by those who break the law, especially in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, there are more prisoners serving life without parole sentences for crimes they committed or participated in as child offenders than in any other state in the United States. According to Human Rights Watch and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections statistics, the number has well exceeded 400. In the United States, there are over 2,000 prisoners serving life without parole sentences for crimes they committed or participated in as child offenders while in all the other countries of the world there are ZERO. Consider the absurdity of that for a moment. A child offenderin Pennsylvania who makes a terrible decision that tragically results in a homicide would receive a more balanced sense of justice and leniency in authoritarian regimes that are habitually cited for human rights abuses by the United States, and yet these same regimes extend more compassion to child offenders than the world’s self-proclaimed defender of human rights and democracy.
Sentencing a child offender to life without parole is a violation of a child’s human rights. No matter what language the state employs, often being the language of vengeance, a child does not cease being a child because of a terrible decision she or he makes that runs afoul of the law. We also must ask ourselves what type of society needs protection from its own children to the extent that they must be locked away for life? The fact that Pennsylvania, and the United States, sentences more of its children to life without parole than the rest of the world combined speaks volumes about the nature of our society because in the end children are reflections of their societies.
There are many who question why child offenders sentenced to life without parole should ever be considered for release. For a moment try and put yourself in an offender’s shoes. Just imagine what it is like to be a 35 year old man or woman condemned to die in prison for a terrible decision you made as a child. Imagine being denied the opportunity to demonstrate that the person you are at 35 is not the child you were at 16. A life under a cloud of hopelessness perpetually drifts over the head of a prisoner serving life without parole for a crime he committed or participated in as a child. He is forever condemned to his past despite the accomplishments and maturity he or she has developed as an adult. Only a justice system predicated on vengeance could justify such a sentence that holds children to the same accountability standards as adults.
It is always healthier for a society to incline towards justice and away from vengeance. The state of Pennsylvania and the United States in general must dispense of and abolish this draconian sentence that rests in vengeance as opposed to justice. Undertaking this measure would provide child offenders sentenced to life without parole the ability to demonstrate that despite the mistakes of our pasts we will not be defined by the past and are human beings worthy of redemption who can contribute to society and help mentor and work with at risk children to help prevent them from making the same mistakes we made. Otherwise to continue this practice of sentencing children to die in prison constitutes not only a travesty of justice but also the inhumanity of a system that sacrifices its children on the altar of vengeance.
In Solidarity With All Who Fight For Justice,
Robert Saleem Holbrook