Regarding the Nov. 25 front-page article “Underage killers test limits of justice system”:

White school shooters make up only a minute fraction of children sentenced to life without parole. Seventy percent of all children ever to receive the sentence have been children of color, a majority of whom experienced trauma in their own childhoods. Twenty-five percent of these children were convicted of felony murder, meaning they were not the primary perpetrators of the crime.

The Supreme Court said life-without-parole sentences are unconstitutional for the vast majority of children. A majority of the country now bans or does not impose life without parole on children under 18.

Banning life without parole does not mean flinging open prison doors. Instead, judges and parole boards are charged with thoughtful, case-by-case assessments of rehabilitation and public safety as they determine whether people who committed crimes as children should be freed many years later, as mature adults.

Children do commit serious crimes and should be held accountable in age-appropriate ways. Basing policy decisions on the most heartbreaking, extreme examples of youth violence risks the cruel and disproportionate punishment of children of color, and we would be better served to focus on the underlying causes of youth violence than to consider bringing back extreme sentences for children that have been widely abandoned.

Heather Renwick, Washington

The writer is legal director at the
Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.