Generally when we think of excessive force and police brutality we think about physical violence by police officers. But what if we broadened our conception to include excessive sentencing by state judicial systems?
Today the Sentencing Project published a survey of 1,579 juvenile lifers from across the country. The survey found that juvenile lifers often come from violent and economically disadvantaged environments. They have been victims of abuse on the outside yet when given the opportunity make use of prison rehabilitative services.
Race and racial profiling is also a possible issue. The study found apparent racial disparity in sentencing. If you are an African-American youth arrested for killing a white person you are more likely to be sentenced to LWOP than if you are a white youth arrested for killing an African-American.
Fairness and the rule of law requires that people with power (like cops) be held accountable for bad conduct like excessive force in the same way as everyone else. But those ideas also mandate that certain people not be punished more harshly than others.
Further, implicit in the rule of law is the need for everyone in society to have an equal chance to create and enforce the laws that govern. While many people overcome obstacles of all kinds and succeed as productive members of the democratic and legal process the juvenile lifer study shows that isn't the outcome in every case.
Perhaps we should shift our focus from "lock 'em up and throw away the key" to leveling the playing field.