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Too young for life without parole

It's time for the United States to take a new look at imposing this too-harsh sentence on children who commit major crimes.

In 1646, the General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony passed the Stubborn Child Law, decreeing that teenage boys who disobeyed their parents could be put to death.

What a difference 3 1/2 centuries make. In our enlightened age, mothers and fathers study manuals for techniques to make children more compliant. And many of us are well acquainted with the critical mass of neuroscience establishing that adolescence constitutes a time of diminished responsibility, when the brain's frontal lobes — the seat of judgment and impulse control — are still developing.

All too many U.S. criminal courts and state legislatures, however, have yet to get this memo.

Today, according to Human Rights Watch, 2,570 U.S. prisoners convicted of major crimes committed when they were 14 to 17 years old are serving sentences of life without parole. (Some 300 of them are in California.) In recent years, as other industrialized nations have adhered to international human rights conventions, the United States has become the world's only nation to impose such sentences for minors, say researchers at the University of San Francisco School of Law.

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