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Posts Tagged ‘Joe Sullivan’

As the end of 2009 approaches, 1 in 100 is taking a look back at some noteworthy stories about prison from the past year that may not have crossed your radar.

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Several hundred women prisoners filed suit against the state of Michigan for failing to stop repeated sexual assaults against them by male prison guards. They’ve won at least $50 million in damages so far. Toni Bunton, above, bravely recounted the multiple sexual assaults she endured during her 17 years in prison to the Detroit Free Press in early 2009.

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On December 8, Kenneth Biros was the first person executed in the United States with a single-drug lethal injection, a process that is supposed to be less painful than executions carried out with the typical three-drug cocktail.  Ohio adopted the new method after the botched execution of Rommell Brown, whose execution was halted after Brown suffered for an unimaginable two hours. Kenneth Biros was the 52nd person executed in 2009; Carlton Gary is scheduled to be the 54th, and final, person executed this year.

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This year, the New York Times has run several interesting articles on various prison-related issues. Check out these pieces on flaws in the immigration detention systemchildren with parents in prisona reporter who covers executions in Texas, and an ex-convict trying to stay clean after prison.

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On May 20, Arizona inmate Marcia Powell died after being left in a cage in the desert sun for four hours. Powell had been given psychotropic medication that made her more susceptible to overheating, and nearby prisoners claimed that Powell was denied repeated claims for water. When Powell was pronounced brain dead at a hospital, prison officials could not find record of a legal guardian for Powell, even though she had one, resulting in Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan authorizing termination of Powell’s life support without proper legal consent. Read more about this tragedy here and here.

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This year, the Supreme Court heard two cases arguing that sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole (LWOP) is unconstitutional. Joe Sullivan, above,  and Terrance Graham were each sentenced to LWOP as juveniles for crimes that did not involve murder. Approximately 2,750 individuals in the United States are serving LWOP for crimes committed as juveniles; the United States is the only country in the world that has this penalty for individuals under the age of 18.

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Finally, a fantastic chart from Online Education demonstrating the social and financial costs of prisons. Click here to see the full-size version.

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Happy Holidays, and here’s hoping for a 2010 with fewer prisons.

-1 in 100

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Thirteen-year-old boys are a typical bunch. Most spend their free time hanging out with their buddies and playing sports, roughhousing to explore the limits of their rapidly-growing bodies. They are not quite children and certainly not men; they hover somewhere between, with a few kids growing up just a bit too soon while others never seem to leave childhood behind.

In 1989, when Joe Sullivan was 13, he broke into an elderly woman’s home, robbed it with two friends, and allegedly returned later to rape her. Sullivan admitted to the burglary but denied that he sexually assaulted the 72 year-old. After a trial that lasted a mere day, he was convicted to life in prison without the possibility of parole-a teenager condemned to begin and end his adult life locked behind bars.

Clearly, Sullivan was not a typical 13 year-old. He planned at least one serious crime with two accomplices, both older friends of his. This seems to be the case of a young man falling in with the wrong crowd, one that steered him toward the kinds of trouble that most teenagers avoid. When you bring the rape charge into consideration, it launches Sullivan into the realm of an adult as rape is a very severe, intentional infliction of harm-but in Sullivan’s case, should he pay an adult punishment?

Let’s assume Sullivan is guilty of the rape for which he was convicted. Facts to consider: He was 13 years-old. He may have been influenced to do it by his older friends. The rape was not notably brutal or violent (for sexual assault). If kept in a juvenile facility until the age of 25, he would have served 12 years in prison, nearly two years more than the national average sentence for adults convicted of rape.

So why is Sullivan still behind bars twenty years later? As Adam Liptak of the New York Times points out, since 1989, no one-adult or juvenile-in the United States has been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for the crime of rape. Furthermore, only eight people in the world are serving life sentences for crimes committed at the age of 13, all of them in the U.S.

These judicial trends suggest people simply aren’t comfortable condemning the youngest teenagers to life behind bars forever. It’s a harsh price to pay for someone in the earliest throes of puberty, someone who can’t drive a car, vote, or see an R-rated movie without a guardian. The seriousness of rape can’t be ignored, but creating a sentencing system for juveniles that denies the possibility for parole contradicts the most important goal of the penal system-rehabilitation. Can we really stand to throw away people’s chances for changing their lives when they’ve barely just begun them?

Sullivan’s case is aided by indications that he may not have gotten a fair trial. The lawyer who defended him has been disbarred in Florida, and DNA evidence collected at the scene was not presented at the trial. This is a prime opportunity for the Supreme Court to make precedence and rule that 13 year-olds are ineligible for life sentences without the possibility of parole. While they are certainly capable of making grave mistakes, teenagers should not have to pay an adult, permanent price, especially if their crimes do not involve taking the lives of others.

Write or email Bill McCollum, Florida’s Attorney General, and show your support for Joe Sullivan:

Office of Attorney General
State of Florida
The Capitol PL-01
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050
(850)414-3300
ag.mccollum@myfloridalegal.com

**Update: According to the Equal Justice Initiative‘s report “Cruel and Unusual: Sentencing 13- and 14-Year-Old Children to Die in Prison,” there are currently nine individuals serving life without parole for crimes committed at the age of 13.  They also note that Joe Sullivan is mentally disabled and currently confined to a wheelchair because of medical problems.

Click here to read an editorial in the Detroit Free Press advocating against life sentences for juveniles.**

Photo copyright Glenn Paul.

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