The juvenile death penalty

Cruel and unusual punishment


By: Alice Kim

This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments over whether to outlaw the juvenile death penalty. Four Supreme Court Justices have already declared their opposition to the juvenile death penalty, describing the execution of young offenders as a "relic of the past" and a "shameful practice" that should be ended.

And most Americans seem to agree. A recent Gallup survey found that 69 percent of Americans oppose capital punishment for juvenile offenders. And more states are banning this practice. Two states, South Dakota and Wyoming, abolished the juvenile death penalty earlier this year. In New Hampshire, the legislature also passed a bill banning the juvenile death penalty but Governor Craig Benson vetoed the bill.

Today, 31 states outlaw the juvenile death penalty. When the U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of people with mental retardation--citing evolving "standards of decency"--30 states outlawed that practice. The U.S. is one of only five countries in the world since 2000 that are known to execute prisoners who were convicted of a crime when they were juveniles. In carrying out this barbaric practice, the U.S. shares the company of China, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iran and Pakistan. Officially, Pakistan and China have abolished the juvenile death penalty, but have had problems in compliance with the law. In fact, since 2000, the U.S. has executed more juvenile offenders than any other country.

Over 70 juvenile offenders now sit on death rows across the country and 22 juvenile offenders have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. The time to end this barbaric practice is long overdue.