U.S. Senator Tom Harkin is taking issue with Governor Branstad’s executive order dealing with life prison sentences. Branstad’s order this week means people who were sentenced to life for crimes they committed as juveniles will be eligible for parole in 60 years.
The action follows a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found an automatic life sentence in those cases is unconstitutional. Harkin says he agrees with the court — and not the governor. “Hopefully, civilization is progressing to the point where we understand that sometimes kids do impetuous things,” Harkin says.
“Sometimes they get caught up in things. We’ve (heard) all kinds of stories, kids who committed these heinous crimes when they were a kid, they were accessories to the fact.” Branstad’s executive order ensures 38 Iowa inmates who were sentenced to life for crimes they committed when they were between 14 and 18 will stay in prison for many more years, several decades in most cases.
Harkin says that’s contrary to the spirit of what the nation’s high court was trying to accomplish. “I think Governor Branstad’s 60 years, that’s a life sentence,” Harkin says. “This ought to be a part of rehabilitation. Maybe there’s some that are just so violent or something they have to stay (in prison), but this ought to be left up to parole boards and district attorneys, state jurisprudence offices to take a look at that.”
Branstad, a Republican, made his order Monday, flanked by families of victims of brutal atrocities who told tearful stories and said they supported the governor’s move. Harkin says he’s sympathetic, but we also need to look at the other side.
“You’re very saddened by the loss that people have had from a violent crime any way that’s committed and if it’s committed by a juvenile, one family and one life has been ruined, what about the families of some of these kids, too?” Harkin says. “Maybe they tried their best to raise a kid and maybe something went wrong, they made a mistake.”
Harkin, a Democrat, says as he gets older, he’s “gotten away from this idea of retribution as a means of justice.”