ACLU: Don't Put Kids in Prison for Life

Mar 24, 2015

A Republican-dominated panel in the Iowa House Tuesday signed off on a Senate bill to revise sentences  for underage offenders who commit homicide. Backers say the bill would bring Iowa into compliance with court rulings that Iowa’s current law is unconstitutional. 

Both the U.S. and the Iowa Supreme Courts threw out Iowa’s law mandating life in prison without parole for teen killers. The Senate bill gives courts other options. Courts could allow parole immediately. But they could also still hand down the life without parole sentence.   

Critics, including the ACLU’s Rita Bettis, say parole should be an option in all cases for juveniles.

“Only two countries, the United States and Somalia, sentence our children to life without parole,” Bettis says. 

But county prosecutors and others want the option for the most heinous crimes.    

Under recent rulings, Iowa courts must consider the offender’s age and other circumstances in sentencing.  

Bettis predicts that in time courts will throw out all life without parole sentences for juveniles.

“We think the case law will eventually ban that option,” Bettis says.

Backers say the bill is a compromise between those who want the toughest penalty for heinous crimes and those who think juveniles should be treated differently, while at the same time being constitutional.  

The lone Democrat on a three member panel opposes the bill. The bill goes now to the full House Judiciary Committee.