Condemning kids to life behind bars

July 18, 2008

Mark Clements is a victim of torture at the hands of Chicago police and has been incarcerated since age 16--with four life sentences plus 30 years--for a crime he did not commit. He is one of Chicago's youngest police torture victims and one of the first juveniles to be sentenced to "natural life" in prison. He is fighting for justice for himself and other victims of police torture.

SHOULD JUVENILE offenders in the state of Illinois be sentenced to natural life sentences and be afforded no opportunity for parole, even if it is their first offense?

This is the question that Illinois state lawmakers are trying to answer through legislation (HB 4384) submitted by Illinois state Rep. Robert S. Molaro and assigned to Illinois state Rep. Annazette Collins, who chairs the Committee on Juvenile Reform.

In the state of Illinois, 103 juveniles, aged 13 to 17 years old, have been sentenced to natural life without the possibility of parole. Illinois does not have a life sentencing clause, but does have a "natural life" sentencing clause, which is imposed without any conditions of parole. This means that kids as young as 13 years old can be sentenced to natural life, literally sentenced to "throw away" terms.

Some of these inmate offenders have been incarcerated since 1979 within the Illinois Department of Corrections, achieving every level of rehabilitation that Illinois prisons have to offer.

Should kids who are alleged to be guilty of crimes be warehoused in Illinois state prisons forever, and never be given an opportunity for redemption through some form of parole? This is the tough question that Illinois lawmakers hope to answer soon.

Natural life sentences applied to juvenile offenders are administered disproportionately by Illinois court judges. Seventy-four of those serving natural life are African American, and nearly all are from Cook County. Some are Chicago police torture victims who were victimized and psychologically tricked into confessions or saying incriminating remarks by police detectives. Some are kids who were misrepresented by their lawyers, and many were represented by assistant public defenders, who are overworked and underpaid. Some had mental problems when arrested.

This is a country in which neither kids nor the mentally ill can be executed, but they can be warehoused for the rest of their lives inside Illinois state prisons. This is backward. Just as Chicago police torture victims need to be heard and taken seriously by the Illinois government, so do these kids, who have been sentenced to harsh sentences and told that they should not be shown any mercy or see daylight.

Do you feel that 13- to 17-year-old kids should be locked up forever inside Illinois prisons and never afforded a parole opportunity? Please contact Illinois state representatives and senators at 312-814-2121 and request that they vote "yes" on HB 4384.
Mark Clements, Pontiac, Ill.

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