This is one of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve ever read.
On August 29, 1976, around 1:40 am, a fire erupted at 1138 Spruce Street in Chester, Pennsylvania. The building, in a row of two-family homes just south of the Delaware Expressway, burned for two hours, killing two boys: 13-year-old Brian Harvey and his 6-year-old brother, Derrick.
Neighbors spotted two local girls at the scene: 16-year-old Frances Newsome and 14-year-old Trina Garnett. But according to early reports in the Delaware County Daily Times, “the immediate focus” was Trina, a “mysterious girl” with a “grudge” against Sylvia Harvey, the boys’ mother.
In March the Sentencing Project released the results of the first national survey of prisoners sentenced to life without parole as a juvenile. Its scope was significant: 1,579 prisoners, or about 60 percent of the total population, had responded. Of those prisoners, 79 percent reported “witnessing violence in their homes.” Almost half “experienced physical abuse, including 79.5% of girls.” Poverty, neglect and trauma were consistent themes.
The ramped-up sentencing of children as adults had a disparate racial impact, reflecting long-held attitudes that kids of color are more criminal in nature and have less rehabilitative potential. Today, black and Latino teens are far more likely to be sentenced to life without parole, particularly for killing a white person. Of the 13- and 14-year-olds sent to die in prison, 70 percent are, like Trina, kids of color.
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