Sen. James Brochin and Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger recently asked whether Maryland would break its promises to victims' families by eliminating life-without-parole sentences for youth under 18. The answer: No ("Will Maryland go back on its word?" March 18).
Messrs. Brochin and Shellenberger imply that by ending life-without-parole sentences for children the state would renege on promises made to citizens when it abolished the death penalty in 2013. In fact, Maryland prohibited the death penalty for minors in 1987, almost two decades before the U.S. Supreme Court decided it was cruel and unusual punishment. This proposed change brings Maryland into compliance with international law and practice. The United States is the only country that sentences children to die in prison. Recently, the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment admonished the U.S. for the practice which the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits.
Science and personal experience tell us that children are still developing and have a unique capacity for change. I know this from my 56 years in criminal justice, including currently as an adjunct professor at Towson University. We also know that individuals paroled from life sentences have the lowest re-offense rates. Maryland should not remain a minority internationally by discarding children for life.
As the former director of the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation, I know too well the horrible crimes both children and adults commit. Rather than using victims as political tools, we should care for them by providing services that support their healing.
W. Roland Knapp, Towson