Northeast Pennsylvania, more so than most of the country, has grim experience in the mistreatment of juveniles in court. The "kids for cash" scandal in Luzerne County was one of the worst judicial scandals in the nation's history.
The scandal has helped to produce a broader examination of juvenile justice, including the common practice of mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder.
In a 2012 case from Alabama, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that there can be no mandatory life sentences for juveniles, that each case must receive individual scrutiny regarding the offender's age, life experience, ability to exercise judgment and prospects for rehabilitation.
That left unsettled the question of whether the decision must be applied retroactively in cases where juveniles already had been sentenced to life imprisonment under mandatory rules. Courts in different states have arrived at different conclusions.
Now, U.S. District Judge Timothy Savage of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, has ruled that the rule against mandatory life sentences must be applied retroactively. That contradicts a decision late last year by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
If Judge Savage's decision holds, juveniles sentenced under mandatory rules would not be released, but would receive sentencing hearings dealing with all of the issues laid out by the Supreme Court of the United States.
The objective should be justice, which should recognize that each case is different - all the more so when the offender is a juvenile. It's inherently unfair to maintain mandatory life sentences for people who were convicted as juveniles, when the U.S. Supreme Court has found that mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional.
Rules should be standardized in favor of reviewing mandatory life sentences.