Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
When Kids Get Life [home page]FRONTLINE [series home]
  • home page
  • five stories
  • interviews
  • site map
  • discussion
  • watch online

join the discussion

jacob indtrevor jonesandrew medinanathan ybanezerik jensen
What are your thoughts on these stories of juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole?

Dear FRONTLINE,

The link below has relevance to the piece about teens sentenced to life in prison. It's about keeping teens out of the federal prison system by treating them locally near their communities and families. Recidivism rates have dropped dramatically with this program. Colorado politicians would benefit by updating their judicial policies by viewing teens as immature and impulsive rather than calculating and evil. Perhaps this link could be forwarded to those that are most able to bring change to this outdated and failed policy about teens and crime.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/05/08/MNG4TPMNBM1.DTL&hw=youth offenders&sn=001&sc=1000

matt eremko
san lenadro, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Please ask Ms. Bikel where I could write to these men in prison. Her piece is so profoundly disturbing that I must do something, become involved and at least write these men letters.

Is there a way to accurately access their prison addresses?

Thanks,Susan Spaulding spauld@sonic.netSanta Rosa, Ca.

Susan Spaulding
Santa Rosa, California

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

For more information on contacting the inmates featured in this report, please visit this site. Please note, however, that inmates have to pay for their own postage, so they may not be able to reply.

Dear FRONTLINE,

We, as "the people" should unite and take a visible stand against the injustice and mockery of the Felony Murder Rule. We should demand that those who have been in prison and lost more than 10 years because of some foolish young decision should now be given their freedom.....

Every reader has an email address book. each of us should send information about the wrongness of the FMR to all of them in our address book and ask them to forward it on. we could continue to what Frontline has begun.

thank you for bringing this to the public

barbara hoardparent of son serving LWOP under FMR in FLoria

Barbara Hoard
Milton, florida

Dear FRONTLINE,

The following is a portion of an email I sent to a reporter from the Denver Post. I found his article as a link from the PBS.org site. I have copied you here as a number of the points I make would apply to the Frontline Episode that you aried last night.

Mr. Moffiet,I just received an email from my sister-in-law pointing out that there were a number of articles and interviews linked to the PBS.org website regarding Nathan Ybanez. I will have to tell you that your article upset me greatly. You see, I was friends with Julie Ybanez. My husband and I met Julie, Roger and Nathan in 1982. We lived in Europe at the same time and ended up working for the same company. Julie & Roger were our best friends during the 4 years we were there. After we all returned to the states we continued our friendship, in fact they were with my husband and I in Colorado the night my husband proposed in 1988. One of the reasons that the Ybanez Family moved to Virginia Beach was because of our friendship (we had settled there). After they moved to Omaha (because they purchased a franchise) and then onto Colorado, we continued to keep in touch - having long talks on the phone during which we shared many of our most intimate joys and heartaches. I last talked to Julie about a month before her death. I feel that I knew Julie - and the Julie that has been portrayed in your television show is not Julie Ybanez. She can't defend herself, so I will defend her. Julie was a Christian - certainly. But she was not some out of control zealot. She loved her son and always tried to balance her beliefs with the realities of a child's desire to participate, for example, in Trick-or-Treat activities or listening to rock music. Even during our last conversation the topics included the trials of maintaining balance and fairness with regard to Nathan. She wanted him to be able to do regular teenage stuff -- but to not go to the extremes and ignore their Christian faith or engage in dangerous activities. As for the Ybanez family being reclusive or extremely private. Again, I believe they are being unfairly portrayed. From the time I met them I was in awe of their ability to make so many friends where ever they were. My husband was initially a business competitor of theirs in Europe. Despite the fact that we worked for different companies they reached out to us when we were all alone in a strange country and became our best friends. Both Roger and Julie were social and a lot of fun to be around. As for them being so private -- we discussed every aspect of our various lives: successes, failures, heartbreaks, finances, children, & our hopes for the future. The description of the Ybanez's that you are relaying to the public is not an accurate portrayal of them. With regard to Nathan's portrayal of his mother as a sexual abuser, I will never, ever believe that the kind, compassionate, friendly, and devoted Christian woman that I knew would ever sexually abuse her son. Julie loved and cared for her son. She wanted the best for him. They may have had failures to communicate during the teenage years and differences of opinion - but Julie was no sexual deviant. I fail to understand why you, or anyone else, would not understand that Nathan needs to blame the victim in order to try and obtain his freedom. In the article it appears that the fact that the Ybanez family moved a lot is somehow supposed to have played a part in Nathan's supposed "abuse" at the hands of his parents. I might point out that military families move many times during their careers and yet you assist Nathan in implying that the "blur" of neighborhoods and schools was something so negative. I too was raised by a father who had a dream, the dream of flying for a commercial airline. I moved quite a bit during my childhood/teen years, both during his career in the Air Force and as a teenager when we moved because he changed careers several times. I may not have liked it at the time but it was not abusive. We moved because my parents wanted a better life for their children. The last time that I actually saw Nathan with his parents was in Virginia Beach, VA, not too long before they moved to Omaha. We were at their apt.- just as a casual drop in. Nathan was relaxed and joking with his parents. I don't honestly remember what activities Roger and Nathan were discussing -- BUT I do remember that part of the afternoon gab session involved the two of them telling us about some of the father-son stuff that they had done lately. In the interests of fairness let me state that I had not visited with Julie in person since she moved away from Virginia Beach. But I do know that for her to have become the monster that Nathan describes is completely out of character for her. It's just so far removed from the person that I knew so well that it astounds me. As for the psychologists and social workers who "back up" Nathan's claims of sexual abuse I believe that they are inadvertently advancing or contributing to the unfortunate "blame the parents & fault the victim" attitude that is so pervasive nowadays. While there may indeed be real cases where such awful abuse occurred in other families I want you and others to know that I am appalled that Julie's character would be so cruelly violated. Some may argue that the sentence that Nathan received was too harsh and perhaps that is the case. But, my concern is not for Nathan, my concern is for my dead friend who is being portrayed as a true villain. I can only imagine that Nathan might feel that he has to create the image of some evil Julie to justify his crime if he believes that, in so doing, he gives himself the one chance that he needs to get out of prison. But by vilifying his mother he is committing yet another murder, the murder of Julie's character and good name. Sincerely,Jaclyn HarrellVirginia Beach, VA

P.S. It is my sincere hope that you will ignore my poor grammar and inability to put together a concise essay in order to help show a more accurate portrayal of Julie Ybanez.

Jaclyn Harrell
Virginia Beach, Virginia

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline:

I would like one thing to change when teenagers are accused of crimes and their stories are told: that they be called "teens," "teenagers," or "adolescents" and not "children."

Children, in my mind, range in ages from 5 - 10 or 11. These are ages of innocence, and those this young do not plan and actually shoot, stab, or beat other people to death. Nor do they take drugs and drink with reckless abandon. Yet, teens are quite capable of this behavior.

The Columbine killers, Klebold and Harris, were maniacal and killed with great fervor and savagery. Their mindset and behavior was the anything but "child-like."

Are some teens given unjust sentences? Yes, in the same manner that adults, at times, are falsely accused and convicted. In your presentation, the young man who helped his friend "clean up" the murder scene, but did not know his friend would do such a thing, and had no part at all in the slaying, seems to be such a one.

Still, I think the term "children" should be dropped - it is misleading.

Middletown, PA

Dear FRONTLINE,

The minute I saw "written, produced, and directed by Ofra Bikel" I knew we were in for another piece of propoganda worthy of George Orwell.This piece was so, slanted, so unbalanced, so unfair that it will illuminate nothing but the concerted nation-wide campaign by a group called the Campaign for Youth Justice.This coalition, along with others, seek to roll back reforms that have RESULTED in dramatic rates of violent juvenile crimes.As I gritted my teeth and watched I thought of two things:1) The Menendez case and the two rich snots who butchered their parents and then cried because they were orphans2) The incredible irony that Bikel, best known for her lengthy films on what she has termed "witch hunts" involving child abuse, now attempts to excuse the brutal murder by several of her sympathetically-portrayed killers because of alleged sexual abuse by their now-dead parents.PBS owes equal time to advocates for justice reform of a different sort.

Joshua Marquis
Astoria, Oregon

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am the president of a national non-profit that works with victims of violent crime. The Justice & Reconciliation Project (JRP) promotes and advocates for victims-driven restorative justice. It is everything we ignore today in our criminal justice system.

Your story was compelling but the answer to the problem is unclear. The vision that restorative justice provides allows for offender accountability, opens the door for healing of victims (as much as possible), while acknowledging that crime injures communities as well. We need restorative justice principles to come to bear on our broken criminal justice system.

We encourage you to do a story on this subject. In it, we would suggest you talk to the increasing number of victims around the country and outside the U.S. who support this type of reform. It is fair, balanced and cost effective. The need is now.

Lisa Rea, President The Justice & Reconciliation Project (JRP)www.thejrp.orgCalifornia

Lisa Rea
Lincoln, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

If you would like to let the Governor of Colorado know how you feel, the contact information is

Bill Ritter, Governor136 State CapitolDenver, CO 80203-1792Phone(303) 866-2471Fax(303) 866-2003E-mail

Castle Rock, Co

Dear FRONTLINE,

Having read a few more of the comments here I would like to say that while a lot of people were outraged by the bias presented in this program they are not understanding the concept. This show is not about all the teens that are justifiably (or at least moreso) in prison for murder - this show was about what can happen when you have a blatant mandatory sentence for a guilty verdict in a murder. The point was that with that law in effect it is all black and white. Your life is over no matter what the circumstance is and is that what we really want in the name of justice or do we want to look at all the factors - including is this person able to be rehabbed and put back into society. I see sooo many criminals who have killed, raped, etc. and are out on the street. These are lifetime offenders that will keep on keeping on. There is nothing right or fair about this law. And while you're looking at laws - let's keep the real criminals behind bars.

Fountain Hills, AZ

Dear FRONTLINE,

The case of Nathan Ybanez left me utterly incredulous. Is there no excuse for matricide in America? I suppose if a teenage girl killed her father after suffering years of his sexual abuse, society would give her a metal. As always, your progamming gets me to thinking. And as usual, PBS is only trying to undo the damage done by the rest of the media on public opinion and modern jurisprudence. I found a couple quotes pertinent to your program. Fyodor Dostoevsky -- "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." Samuel Johnson -- "A slight perusal of the laws by which the measures of vindictive and coercive justice are established will discover so many disproportions between crimes and punishments, such capricious distinctions of guilt, and such confusion of remissness and severity as can scarcely be believed to have been produced by public wisdom, sincerely and calmly studious of public happiness."

Martin Bring
Bellingham, Washington

Dear FRONTLINE,

The quality of mercy and justice seem to be very strained in this country from how we treat unborn life in the womb and our juvenile offenders to how we sell the justice system to special interests. It seems to be very much about politics, money and revenge and very little about justice, mercy and rehabilitation. We have become hard and mean spirited.

I have a modest proposal for all the politicians who like to put juveniles into prison and throw away the key. Spending your life in prison with no hope for release is torture. We Americans know that we don't torture people. President Bush has told us so. If that's the case, then let's be merciful and kill those juveniles. If their lives are so worthless, it would be the far, far better thing to do. Life with God is certainly better than life in prison. Not only that, but it would save us the money of incarcerating them for so many years, and we're all about saving money. What do ya say America?? Good idea??

Maybe before we go about trying to export our brand of democracy to other regions of the world, we need to take a good look at ourselves. I smell something rotten, and it's not in Denmark.

Albany, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

Politics is at the heart of this problem. If a politician wants to spend tax dollars to deal with prevention it emasculates that individual and makes that person a target during an election cycle as a tax and spend liberal. As long as our politicians are willing to employ over simple answers to hard questions we will keep making the same mistakes. Prevention is complicated and it isn't easy to shove into a two minute sound bite. Conservative thought is from the heart not the head and as long as we remain a conservative nation we will keep dealing with these kinds of problems on the back end instead of preventing them on the front end.

Stan Tyree
Fairbanks, Alaska

Dear FRONTLINE,

As one of those featured in When Kids Get Life, I would like to thank Ofra Bikel for her masterful work. For the critics who say these cases were handpicked to show a bias against life without parole, I know the circumstances of many Colorado kids serving life. One was for a hit and run, which has, in other cases resulted in sentences ranging anywhere from probation to a few years in prison. This kid, who is black, got life. We know of another case of a 38-year-old who, following an argument with his father over a birthday cake, set his father on fire. The father died. The adult child who killed his parent got 16 years -- eligible for parole in 5. Jacob Ind and Nathan Ybanez killed their abusers and get life? It makes no sense other than teen "killers" are easy prey for prosecutors and the press. Once a district attorney direct files a kid into the adult court, he knows he's sentencing that kid to life in prison without possibility of parole. With more than a 90% conviction rate -- can anyone say Kangaroo Court? -- these kids never have a chance. Convicting kids provides an easy path to re-election but it doesn't provide justice.Children are not adults and treating them so has not made us safer as a society. Seeking retribution over redemption has not made us safer as a society. Throwing people behind bars wholesale is not not only bankrupting us fiscally, it is destroying our collective soul.No amount of time served can ever bring back a life so it's time to have a different dialogue -- one that can bring a measure of healing and real -- rather than rhetorical -- justice to all those involved.

Mary Ellen Johnson
Woodland Park, CO

Dear FRONTLINE,

Why is it that issues concerning the effects of sentencing laws (in this case, life without parole for juvenile offenders) always generate media attention (and sympathy) when those effects are analyzed relative to whites? The sentencing laws have routinely resulted in sentences of life without parole for African-American juvenile offenders. Who is standing up for them?

Charles Bucket
New York, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

To the person in Littleton CO who believes it's a "fair deal" a life for a life. You're quoting the Old Testament, what about the new and what Jesus preached? I too lost a loved one to murder and learned to forgive because my hatred and pride in that hatred was killing me.

Denham Springs, LA

more

home . introduction . watch online . five stories . state-by-state map . interviews . timeline . join the discussion
conversation with ofra bikel . readings & links . teacher's guide . site map . dvd & transcript . press reaction
credits . privacy policy . journalistic guidelines . FRONTLINE series home . wgbh . pbs

posted may. 8, 2007

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
background photograph © scot frei/corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation