Jordan Brown & LWOP

With a boy of 12 in lockup threatened with the rest of his life in jail (to say nothing of grim national statistics) you have to wonder if the “corrections” departments of America shouldn’t just be outright renamed Department of Slave Management.

Jordan Brown is the boy who allegedly at the age of 11 killed his father’s pregnant girlfriend, 26-year-old Kenzie Marie Houk.

According to Dr. John S. O’Brien II, lawyer and Philadelphia psychiatrist, Brown is not treatable. O’Brien has described Brown as evasive, pretending not to understand questions and has a history of refusing to take responsibility for his actions.

Once again, Jordan Brown is 12.

He will be, if tried as a juvenile, held no later than his 21st birthday. For this reason, the court of Common Pleas Judge Dominick Motto has decided to try Brown as an adult, which if convicted will land this boy in jail for the rest of his natural life without any hope of parole, according to Pennsylvania’s mandatory sentencing laws.

According to Motto, “It is not likely defendant can be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of the juvenile court jurisdiction,” citing Brown’s “significant personality problems that are complicated by his presenting to people in authority a version of himself that does not include the negative aspects.”

There are special guidelines for interviewing children, be it in journalism, psychiatry, law enforcement, or any other context where word constitutes record. Children are prone to agree with what the perceived preferred outcome of the interviewer is. It is a child’s tendency to desire the acceptance of the authority figure. Then there are belligerent children, who are deliberately disagreeable. There is a reason we call this sort of behavior “adolescent”.

Dr. O’Brien seems content to get a 12-year-old tried as an adult and spend the rest of his life in jail because he conforms to the less agreeable of the two trends. Also, the way it reads, the boy’s choices seem to be: admit to full culpability in the crime, or have it declared that he cannot be saved, and have him tried in adult court based on the presumption that he’s guilty and won’t admit it.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney David Acker, O’Brien said that the brain’s decision-making area is not fully developed in a child of Brown’s age.

In 2009, Allegheny County was expected to pay over $310,000 to experts such as O’Brien for their testimony.

Expert testimony accepted in such a blatant presumption of guilt lends credence to the theory that PA has a bent towards sending children to jail.

“Of the 73 children sentenced to die in prison nationwide, 18 were sentenced by Pennsylvania,” according to a 2007 study conducted by the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization working with indigent clients in the legal system. “Florida is second, with 15 young children sentenced to die in prison. In six states – Florida, Illinois, Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Washington – 13-year-old children have been condemned to death in prison.”

The 73 children referred to in the study are from a sampling restricted solely to ages 13 and 14.

The national statistics are equally gruesome. There are at least 2,225 child offenders serving life without parole in U.S. prisons for crimes committed as juveniles, according to a 2205 report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The report found that while serious crimes by youth were decreasing, the percentage of children receiving life in imprisonment was increasing.

The report also found that 59% of the convictions were first-time offenders, that Black children were sentenced to Life without parole (LWOP) 10 times as often, and 26% were child offenders convicted of “felony murder” which holds anyone involved in the commission of a serious crime wherein someone is killed also guilty of the murder, even if they were not the killer.

In other words, regarding felony murder a youth of an age where supervision is advised, the youth can be held liable for the actions of his supervisor.

Felony murder includes Robert Wideman, who was among the accomplices in a 1975 deal to purchase stolen TV sets. However, Daniel Dukes shot Nichola Morena, who died in the hospital after being overlooked by the hospital staff.

Dominic Culpepper of Florida was a subject of chronic emotional and physical abuse by his mother. He was recruited as a drug dealer at the age of 14, and was arrested after fighting off a drug dealer who had gotten into his house. The intruder died even after he called EMS, and though he was defending his home, he was sentenced to death.

Ian Manuel was raised in a violent, empoverished family in Florida, a subject to sexual abuse and later pushed into a life of gang violence. At 13 he shot Debbie Baigrie. The shot was non-fatal and Manuel turned himself in. After being instructed by his attorney to plead guilty in exchange for 15 years, he was sentenced to spend his life from 13 to death behind bars, much of it in solitary confinement.

As of 2005, Omer Ninham is the only 14-year-old sentenced to die Wisconsin prison. His mother drank while he was in vetro, and he was drinking himself from the age of 10. A repeated runaway and subject to abuse, he was convicted of murder for tossing Zong Vang, 13, off of a hospital parking ramp. Upon denial of his appeal, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said:

“For some juvenile offenders, a life sentence without parole is fair and just punishment,” said Van Hollen. “Ninham was properly punished for a horrible crime.”

Think back to being 14. You’re still midway through your growing pains. Life is still in most cases where you live and who you know. You don’t control your environment. Under these circumstances, a child develops based off of his or her surroundings. In this way, we hide the fallout of poverty and other societal failures by shoveling away the product as young as we catch them and for as long as they live.

As of 2005, the 27 states with mandatory LWOP sentencing account for the overwhelming majority of child LWOP cases. This is the revised number from the study, which lists 26 but found Texas changed to mandatory LWOP too recently to be included. AK, NM, KS, WV, ME do not have the sentence of life without parole (for anyone, adult or child). OR, KY, NY do not sentence children to life without parole. No data was supplied for ID.

There is no minimum age for which a child can be prosecuted as an adult and/or sentenced to life without parole in Pennsylvania. Currently, the state houses 332 youth offenders who will never get out of prison. There are 20.9 black youths for every white in this situation, the second highest ratio of its kind out of the 27.

This is the situation faced in the Jordan Brown case. His example reveals the abysmal crater mandatory sentencing gouges into criminal procedure in the name of tougher crime laws. The judge’s hands are tied. A child’s hands are bound. Courts are presented with two options due to mandatory sentencing: the convicted child would be out at 21 or in forever.

A 2009 study by the Sentencing Project updates the A.I./H.R.W. numbers. They found records for 140,610 individuals now serving life sentences in state and federal prison. Of that number, 6,807 were juveniles at the time of the crime. Of the lifers, 29% are without any hope of parole (41,095). As of 1,755 were juveniles at the time of the crime.


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