- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 11, 2009


In your editorial “Full ‘time’ for heinous crimes” (Opinion, Monday), you urge the Supreme Court to decide that sentencing juveniles to life without parole in cases in which “the crimes do not result in another’s death” is constitutional. To support this stance, you use as an example a case in which murder was committed. Hopefully the Supreme Court will be better able to stay on point than your writer.

The editorial paints a grim portrait of 13-year-old Joe Harris Sullivan, one of the juveniles in question. However, it does not inform readers that in his original trial for the rape of a 72-year-old woman, he was represented by an inept lawyer (since disbarred), that he was never positively identified by the victim (who testified only that “he was a dark, colored boy”) and that the only evidence - a thumbprint - could have been left during the earlier burglary that he admits committing. He was “fingered” by two boys who received lighter sentences for the burglary by pinning the rape on Sullivan, but this was never pointed out during his trial.

But of course, that is not what the Supreme Court will be deliberating. The court is simply going to decide at what point we are to give up on children.

At Prison Fellowship, we believe that behavior is a reflection of childhood training. Whether a child commits a criminal act depends on the development of conscience in the early years. After 35 years of working with prisoners, Prison Fellowship is not a “feel-good movement.” We know some offenders must be kept behind bars - but we also know that children can - and frequently do - change.

Children must be taught right from wrong, but moral training is exactly what most juvenile offenders do not receive. These children come largely from broken families - often because a parent is in prison - and demonstrate antisocial behavior at an early age.

That’s why the answer to crime isn’t locking children up, especially in adult prisons, for the rest of their natural lives. Instead, we should attack the moral roots of the crime problem and respond to juvenile offenders in ways that reflect the values of forgiveness, rehabilitation and redemption.

And to answer your question: If a parole board found one of these juvenile offenders to be worthy of release, yes, he or she could come live next to me.


Prison Fellowship

Lansdowne, Va.

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