This is just a quick one, because I'm revising for my start-of-term exam (except I'm clearly not, because I'm posting here).
A couple of months ago, America banned executions on juveniles. I believe they should continue - not because I favour the death penalty (I certainly don't) but because I think they stopped them for the wrong reason. Let us leave aside all the reasons why the death penalty is inherently wrong (such as impossibility of avoiding error in conviction): that is not my argument today.
The decision as reported was based on the concept that juveniles are less responsible than adults therefore should not be treated as adults and executed in otherwise capital cases. In the first place, there is nothing about turning eighteen which suddenly opens one's mind up to the ideas of guilt, wrong and blame. Why should someone aged seventeen and eleven months live when someone eighteen and one day would die? Given that there is no fixed age for 'maturity' (or whatever you want to call the assumption of reasonable faculties), why not consider things on a case-by-case basis? Isn't a compos mentis eleven year old guiltier than a learning disabled nineteen year old?
That is just one reason why this decision is flawed. The other, most important one, I believe, is that America has not disavowed belief in the death penalty altogether: in 38 states, it is still seen as a justifiable punishment. State-sanctioned, judicially-approved murder is one of the most heinous things known to this planet and is more in place in tyrannies than in civilisation. At least in America the death penalty is not applied as randomly or wickedly as in Iraq under Saddam, but both still have it.
Instead of declaring the death penalty wrong, it has merely been postponed until you are eighteen. On a philosophical level, while you continue to approve its use elsewhere, you may as well continue to sentence children to the death penalty. This ban is patronising to children, giving them special exemption from something which ought not to exist anyway. How does this set a good example? Children can get away with things adults can't because they are seen as less than adults even though they may well not be.
We face this situation not because America has come to its senses and realised if anything is cruel and unusual punishment, it is the retributive taking of a life in following the Biblical tit-for-tat doctrine. (My views on religion influencing the world are not hard to discern.) We are here because they think children need special treatment - children who may be as deserving (in this scenario) of capital punishment as adults.
The ban may save some lives, which can only be a good thing, but it has been enforced for the wrong reason, and thus any moral value it might have is destroyed.