Should an 11-Year-Old Boy Go to Jail for Life?

Jordan Brown is set to be tried as an adult for a crime committed when he was 11. He might go to jail for life. America's exceptional like that.


Jordan Brown was 11 years old when he allegedly used his kid-sized shotgun to kill his stepmother, who was pregnant when she died at their home outside of Pittsburgh. Brown is now 13 and, unless his lawyers can convince the judges otherwise, he's set to be tried as an adult.

The Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for offenders under 18 in 2005, and in May 2010, it ruled that children can only be sentenced to life without parole in cases of homicide. In Brown's case, he's charged with two counts of homicide and, if convicted, he could go to jail forever.


Human rights workers around the world are horrified by Brown's predicament. The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to "a fair and effective criminal justice system," notes that in no other nation in the world do juveniles face life without parole. And Susan Lee, head of the American arm of Amnesty International, says, "It is shocking that anyone this young could face life imprisonment without parole, let alone in a country which labels itself as a progressive force for human rights."

One reason people might find it unconscionable to lock away children forever is that most important brain development doesn't stop until a person's late teens and early twenties. And even then you're still years away from real self-awareness.

Still, there are currently more than 2,300 people in the United States facing life imprisonment for crimes they committed as children. And unfortunately for Brown, Pennsylvania has added more kids to that number—about 450—than any other state in the union.

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