Life without parole for juveniles

The practice the Court struck down today was based on a now-discredited bit of social science. Who says so? The man who came up with the idea in the first place.

I’ve never studied any of the esoteric disciplines – such as Kabbalah or Con Law – so I have no idea whether today’s decision about mandatory life-without-parole for juveniles – the one that sparked a hissy-fit from Justice Alito – is good law or not. But to give you some idea how absolutely uncontroversial it is as policy, James Q. Wilson and John DiIulio both signed an amicus to the effect that the laws in question were passed under the influence of the “juvenile super-predator” idea, which has been conclusively discredited empirically. If those names aren’t familiar, DiIulio invented the term “juvenile super-predator.”

As Jonathan points out, the Court majority didn’t say that no one could be locked up forever for a crime committed as a minor, merely that a law requiring such a sentence based on the charge at conviction alone without any individualized consideration was pointlessly cruel.

Footnote I’ve disagreed with both of them, but Jim Wilson had, and John DiIulio has, real class. Not many of us would be willing to say out loud, in a document going to the highest court in the land, “That idea I came up with? It was wrong.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

3 thoughts on “Life without parole for juveniles”

  1. “I’ve never studied any of the esoteric disciplines – such as Kabbalah or Con Law” – good thing I’d swallowed my coffee before reading that line. Brilliant.

  2. I guess it’s classy to say that – I’m glad Wilson and DiIulio were intellectually honest enough to come clean, tho long after the damage has been done. It certainly added fuel to the bonfire of mass incarceration that led to the mess we had today. I always thought that it would be a great academic project to trace the damage from “Body Count” – I’m actually even more disgusted with Clinton and Reno and other Senate Dems (Feinstein and to some extent Biden) essentially adopting their view. And frankly it always struck me as astonishingly, almost openly racist, but since John DiIulio worked with Black People in Inner City Philadelphia he obviously couldn’t have written a racist book. I note that we only got to, “oops sorry” after the great disillusionment that the Bush “Reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis” Administration wasn’t serious about policy. I suppose he got duped by William Bennett and John Walters who of course remain unapologetic.

    I’ve studied Con Law. It’s fairly clear that everything I learned has been tossed out the window by this Supreme Court. I have no interest in Kabbalah; I lean towards the occasional brisk dip into the gnostics with Elaine Pagels as my guide.

    1. “I’m glad Wilson and DiIulio were intellectually honest enough to come clean, tho long after the damage has been done.”

      And in circumstances where people would say ‘How moral! How honorable!’ without mentioning the ‘the bonfire of mass incarceration’.

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