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Op-Ed: Former First Lady Calls for End Of Juvenile Executions in Kentucky

By Rosalynn Carter

This op-ed was originally published in the Feb. 11, 2003, edition of the Kentucky Herald-Leader.

Juveniles Should Not Be Executed For Their Crimes

Barring juvenile executions is consistent with fundamental principles of American justice, recent discoveries in neuroscience, international legal standards, and a growing trend against juvenile executions in the 22 states that still impose the death penalty.

Kentucky House Bill 180, which would eliminate the death penalty for individuals who commit offenses when they are under the age of 18, is under serious consideration in the upcoming legislative session.

As many as 63 percent of Kentuckians support the enactment of such a bill, and almost twice as many strongly support it (37 percent) compared to those who strongly oppose it (21 percent).

America's justice system punishes offenders according to their culpability. Adolescents simply do not have the maturity of adults and are therefore less responsible than adults who commit similar crimes.

This same reasoning has led us to enact laws prohibiting individuals under 18 years of age from entering into contracts, making medical decisions, purchasing cigarettes, consuming alcohol, and voting.

Recent scientific studies confirm that the normal adolescent's brain is undergoing significant changes in areas that calm emotions, control impulses, and make decisions.

We also know from recent research that nearly all of the juveniles who commit murder were subjected to significant abuse or neglect during childhood.

Acknowledging the lesser culpability of juvenile offenders does not minimize the suffering and impact upon their victims' families. Tragically, there are juveniles who commit terrible crimes. But children can be punished without being put to death.

Executing children detracts profoundly from the human rights tradition and global leadership of the United States. In fact, the United States is one of the few remaining countries that permit the execution of juvenile offenders, along with Iran and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Moreover, the United States and Somalia are the only two countries that have not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which includes a provision that prohibits capital punishment for those under the age of 18.

Fortunately, there has been significant momentum in the United States to eliminate the juvenile death penalty. Federal law and the laws of 28 states now prohibit death sentences for juveniles.

In the past four years, both Indiana and Montana passed laws banning capital punishment for child offenders, while Florida, Texas, and Arkansas had at least one legislative branch pass such legislation in their most recent sessions.

I hope that the 2003 General Assembly session will herald the end of juvenile executions in Kentucky.

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