The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 518. The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)diocese serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
House Bill 518 would prohibit a court from imposing a sentence of life without parole on a person who was less than eighteen years of age at the time the offense was committed. In doing so, House Bill 518 seeks to acknowledge certain inherent truths with regard to the criminal capacity of youthful offenders.
In Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), the United States Supreme Court specifically noted certain inherent characteristics of youthful offenders as opposed to their adult counterparts, such as “diminished capacity” and “greater prospects for reform”. Additionally, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has further stated that “society must never respond to children who have committed crimes as though they are somehow equal to adults fully formed in conscience and fully aware of their actions.” The USCCB has further commented that “Abandoning the parole system, as some states have done, combined with the absence of a clear commitment to rehabilitation programs within prisons, turns prisons into warehouses where inmates grow old, without hope, their lives wasted.” (Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, USCCB, 2000) Therefore, it is our position that states should never seek to impose a sentence of life without parole, particularly on youthful offenders.
Furthermore, in his historical speech to Congress in the fall of 2015, Pope Francis said “a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.” Moreover, Pope Francis has also expressly labeled life imprisonment a “hidden death penalty”. (Address to the International Association of Penal Law, Oct. 2014).
Life without parole for youthful offenders destroys all hope for incarcerated children and ignores the inherent possibilities for rehabilitation. It is therefore important that the state of Maryland recognize the vulnerability of youthful offenders and provide for them proper hope for rehabilitation. It is for these reasons that we urge your support and favorable report with regard to House Bill 518.