People who committed crimes before they could legally drive a car should not be spending the rest of their lives behind bars.

There are currently 68 juvenile offenders serving life sentences in Wisconsin. These offenders are doomed from the beginning. Coming from a family with little structure and short on means, the children fall in with a bad crowd. And when they get into trouble, does the court system try to help them, rehabilitate them? No, they cast them away. Out of sight, out of mind. 

The unfortunate truth in all of this is that sometimes this trouble results in criminal convictions.

To be honest, the criminal justice system should be trying its best to keep kids out of the system in general unless it is absolutely necessary to criminally try them in court.

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I’m not saying these crimes deserved to go unpunished just because the people who committed them were young. The fact alone that these crimes earned a life sentence in the first place paints a clear picture of just how heinous these acts were.

But at the same time, the idea of spending the rest of your life in prison because of a mistake you made as a teenager sounds pretty brutal.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who can say they’ve matured a bit since they were in high school. I’m currently only a junior in college, and I know for a fact that I’m far more aware of my decisions and the consequences of those decisions than I ever was even as a senior in high school.

This isn’t just my conjecture. Science has implied that a minor’s brain is not fully developed, and a juveniles have a better chance of rehabilitation than adults. So after spending a few years in the clink, one would think this hypothetical teenager would have had a chance to mature mentally and would also be more rehabilitated than an adult in a similar situation.

Yet, there are people in the Wisconsin criminal justice system who have been behind bars for crimes they committed years ago when they were only minors and may continue to stay behind bars for many years to come.

The real issue in all this is the fact that the lack of people who are granted parole in state of Wisconsin is borderline criminal itself. Apparently, the number of prisoners granted parole dropped from 2,325 in 2000 to 172 in 2014. That’s more than a 90 percent decrease in just 14 years.

First of all, Wisconsin needs to address this lack of parole granting. Whenever the state criminal justice system finally gets their stuff together, those eligible for parole who are serving large sentences for crimes they committed as kids should be first in line.

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At the end of the day, the criminal justice system in total could really use some work, but ultimately, the people in their 30s who have spent almost half of their lives behind bars for crimes they committed while they were teenagers deserve to get a second shake at life.

Phil Michaelson ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in biomedical engineering.