The law does not trust them to vote. It forbids them from watching certain movies in the theater or signing up for a credit card on their own. Consuming alcohol is certainly off limits, as is smoking cigarettes. Society proscribes certain activities for these people because, the thinking goes, they lack the wisdom of age and so cannot be trusted to make informed choices.
But when some children commit crimes, the calculus changes. Suddenly the legal system has no problem assigning children responsibility for their own decisions, implicitly concluding that crime committed by the young is the product of a deliberate decision-making process. These children are sentenced to die in prison.
And it is not only sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds, adolescents who may look old enough to buy alcohol, who are sentenced to life without parole. The Equal Justice Initiative has documented seventy-three cases in the United States where children thirteen- and fourteen-years-old have been given a sentence of life without parole (LWOP) (Equal Justice Initiative 2007). Absent a change in their sentence or some form of pardon, these kids will never again experience life outside an institution. All seventy-three of them are people of color, and most have histories as victims of abuse or neglect.
Take, for example, Quantel Lotts. Quantel grew up in a troubled section of St. Louis. His mother sold and used drugs at home, and Quantel lived in three different foster homes before his father took him to live in a different part of the state. During an argument with his stepbrother, Michael, Quantel …