by Efren Paredes, Jr.
News about upcoming resentencing hearings for youthful offenders who were sentenced to life without parole ("juvenile lifers") has been a frequent occurrence in the media.
Unfortunately the focus remains on inordinate punishment, while rehabilitation continues to be an outlier in the conversation.
Most juvenile lifers have spent decades behind bars. They have been imprisoned most of their teens, all their 20s and most of their 30s. Many prisoners have been incarcerated well into their 40s and 50s.
Research shows that the older prisoners get the lower their risk of recidivating becomes when released, particularly after age 30. The rate of recidivism decreases even more for prisoners with children and/or who are married.
In the case of prisoners serving life sentences, their risk of returning to prison is the lowest of all incarcerated demographics. The recidivism rate for prisoners serving life sentences is less than 2%. The rest of the prison population that is released has an average of 25 - 30% recidivism.
Without question public safety is greater when releasing prisoners who have served long sentences. They have spent many years isolated from the world and reflecting about the crimes they have committed.
They have also come to profoundly understand what it means to lose their freedom for many years, and endured the painful experience of being separated from people they shared their lives with.
During nearly three decades of incarceration I have never met a prisoner serving a life sentence (who was guilty of the crime he committed) that did not deeply regret the actions that lead to his imprisonment. Each has expressed contrition for their mistakes.
It is common to hear prisoners serving life sentences say if they could go back in time to the day they committed their crime they would have made much different choices.
Prisoners express these things in the presence of other prisoners who have absolutely nothing to offer them such as paroles or commutations. They have nothing to gain by their honesty and openness.
This says a lot because many prisoners strive to create and maintain the facade of a rigid exterior and persona so that other prisoners will respect them or be more fearful of them.
Many of these prisoners participate in self-help programming and attend religious services even though their sentences have condemned them to die in prison.
All this demonstrates change. Their actions are reflections of hope, growth, and maturity; all elements essential to reforming their lives.
A society that continues evolving its standards of decency must begin embracing principles that promote life. We cannot become captives to policies designed to eclipse the souls of young offenders and condemn them to a lifetime of perpetual suffering.
Intrinsically every human being wants to do good. Circumstances in young people's lives they can not extricate themselves from derail that at times, but no single experience defines them, whether good or bad.
Statistics reflect that 95% of the prisoner population will return to society one day. This means they will all be offered a second chance to become productive citizens. Youthful offenders should not be excluded from this opportunity.
Denying people second chances is to deny them a life of meaning.