15 to Life: Cruel and Unusual Punishment

4 Aug

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.

The United States is the only country that inflicts life without parole on juveniles. In the landmark Graham v. Florida decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the imposition of life without parole for non-homicide crimes was cruel and unusual punishment for a juvenile offender.

The 2010 decision gave “juvenile lifers,” including Kenneth Young, hope for a second chance.

Kenneth Young

Tonight on PBS’s “Point of View” documentary series, you can hear his story:

In June 2000, 14-year-old Kenneth Young was convinced by a 24-year-old neighborhood crack dealer — Kenneth’s mother’s supplier — to join him on a month-long spree of four armed robberies. The older man planned the Tampa, Fla. heists and brandished the pistol—and, on one occasion, he was talked out of raping one of the victims by his young partner. Fortunately, no one was physically injured during the crimes, although the trauma that resulted was immeasurable.

When they were caught, Kenneth didn’t deny his part. It was his first serious scrape with the law. But at 15, he was tried under Florida law as an adult. Astoundingly, he received four consecutive life sentences — guaranteeing that he would die in prison. 15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story follows the young African-American man’s battle for release, after more than 10 years of incarceration, much of it spent in solitary confinement. The film is also a disturbing portrait of an extraordinary fact: The United States is the only country in the world that condemns juveniles to life without parole.

Check out the trailer.

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