America failed them once. Today, these kids deserve a second chance. Contrary to the super-predator rhetoric utilized by politicians in the past to justify locking up kids for life, adolescents really are different from adults — in almost every way. Their brains are underdeveloped, they struggle with judgment, they are susceptible to peer pressure.
For too long, we have depicted our youth, especially our black youth, as fully developed adults who are a lost cause. But they can change. These are not the soulless “super-predators” the media scared its readers with in the 70s and 80s. These are children. Studies show that even those accused of the most serious crimes age out of crime.
As a child, I was lucky to grow up in home with loving parents and dynamic and supportive mentors. My mom and dad were intensely involved in helping me achieve so many of my dreams. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I know that not everyone is as fortunate as I was. But everyone deserves to have the opportunity to live life as a free person, and to make something of themselves. When we sentence kids to life behind bars, we deprive them of those opportunities.
A lot of people might question why, as a professional athlete, I’m speaking out on criminal justice issues. I believe that it is my duty to use my platform to raise awareness of the kinds of institutional injustices that so rarely make the news — and that we so rarely question. And I want to elevate the work that so many amazing community grassroots organizations are doing to try and bring about this change.
Fortunately, there is some hope, finally, in my hometown. Philadelphia’s newly elected District Attorney has stated he will not seek juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) for any kid, no matter the crime. He has also vowed to allow older cases to be considered for parole.
This is a great start. Now, other prosecutors should follow suit. No matter their race or hometown, rehabilitation is a beautiful thing. After all, there is nothing more American than giving someone who has worked hard a (second) chance to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Drafted by the New Orleans Saints with the 14th-overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Malcolm Jenkins earned a Super Bowl ring in 2010. He joined the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014 and earned Pro Bowl honors in 2015. Jenkins is the recipient of the NFLPA’s Byron “Whizzer” White Award for his outstanding charitable efforts off the field and is also the co-founder of the Players Coalition.