For at least the past five years, anti-incarceration activists, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and Amnesty International (AI), have been waging a disinformation campaign designed to free juvenile killers from prison. The latest battleground is Colorado where the Grand Junction Sentinel reports: “Three state lawmakers are hoping to overturn the life sentences of 48 juveniles who were tried as adults and convicted of murder. The bill, which is to be heard in a House committee this week, would allow those juveniles, who are now adults, to become eligible for parole after they’ve served 40 years of their life terms.”
Retroactively throwing out valid life convictions is terrible public policy. Worse it feeds a movement that spreads false statistics and misleading legal claims. For example, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch partnered in 2005 to co-author a bogus “study” that, among other misstatements, asserted that there were 2,225 juvenile felons serving juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences in the United States. This statistic has since been repeated many times by the media and lawmakers. The problem is, it is just not true.
In a report titled Adult Time for Adult Crimes: Life Without Parole for Juvenile Killers Heritage Foundation Senior Legal Fellow Cully Stimson details how Amnesty International/Human Rights Watch manufactured this claim:
The Department of Justice does not collect or have these statistics. State departments of correction often “lose” juveniles once they are tried in adult court and do not keep JLWOP statistics in a uniform or reliable manner. Worst of all, the AI/HRW report included 18- and 19-year-olds as “juveniles,” and its statistical assumptions were fatally flawed. Deep in their “study,” and stripped of manufactured statistics and bogus assumptions, the AI/HRW admits that they could only verify 1,291 actual juvenile offenders serving JWLOP in the United States. The bottom line: Since the states don’t know exactly how many juveniles are serving LWOP, no organization can state how many juveniles are serving JLWOP.
Last year in their Graham v. Florida decision, the Supreme Court by implication adopted The Heritage Foundation’s statistics and soundly rejected the manufactured statistics of the activist groups. The Court also held that upheld the constitutionality of JLWOP for killers.
The Sentinel reports on one of the killers activists are trying to set free:
As a case in point, [Mesa County District Attorney Pete] Hautzinger pointed to the 1996 murders of Janet and Jennifer Davis, the only Mesa County case among the 48.
That was when Verle James Mangum, then 17 and high on methamphetamine, bludgeoned 42-year-old Janet Davis with a baseball bat when she caught him having sex with her 11-year-old daughter, Jennifer.
“Then he goes back into the bedroom and bludgeons the 11-year-old to death because she might be a witness against him,” Hautzinger said. “That’s not somebody I’d want out after 40 years regardless of how old he is.”
This legislation has moved through the Colorado legislature at a lightning pace which has not afforded any of the victims families an opportunity to be heard. Not only is this morally questionable, but it might even be a violation of the Colorado Constitution.