Juvenile Life Without Parole (JLWOP)

The United States is the only country in the world that permits youth to be sentenced to life without parole. Sentencing children to die in prison is condemned by international law. For children or adults, a sentence of life without parole is cruel, inhumane, and denies the individual’s humanity. For children, the sentence also defies law and research confirming that youth are different than adults and must be treated differently by our justice system.    

Between 2005-2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued several decisions banning extreme adult sentences for youth. In Roper v. Simmons, the Court banned the juvenile death penalty; in Graham v. Florida, the Court banned life without parole sentences for youth convicted of non-homicide crimes; and in Miller v. Alabama, the Court banned mandatory sentences of life without parole for youth convicted of homicide crimes. Youth may still be sentenced to discretionary life without parole in homicide cases, but only after the sentencing court has determined, after a full hearing, that the youth is permanently incorrigible and incapable of rehabilitation.

In each of these cases, the Court relied upon scientific research to conclude that even youth who commit the most serious or violent crimes have the capacity to change. Because of their developmental immaturity, impetuousness, and susceptibility to negative peer influences, children are less blameworthy for their criminal conduct than adults.

Research also shows that most youth will naturally grow out of criminal behavior by their mid-twenties. Life without parole and other extremely lengthy sentences keep youth in prison well past the point at which they have been rehabilitated and well beyond any reasonable risk of re-offending.

Moreover, many juvenile lifers— both inside and out of prison — are leading exemplary lives. They are leaders within the prison walls, and many of those who have returned home have dedicated themselves to working with youth and keeping their communities safe.

Extreme Sentences Don’t Work

We need solutions that work. It is far more expensive to lock individuals up for life than to invest in our schools and our communities. These sentencing practices don’t make us safer, and they deny youth who have demonstrated growth and maturity the chance to rejoin their families and communities, and contribute to those communities in meaningful and productive ways.  

Juvenile Law Center is a leading advocate nationwide in the fight to end juvenile life without parole and other harsh sentences for youth in the justice system. We have participated in all of the sentencing challenges before the U.S. Supreme Court. We continue to provide litigation support, technical assistance, and professional training to support the ongoing implementation of these decisions at the state level.

Images: © Richard Ross, juvenile-in-justice.com

Juvenile Life Without Parole in Pennsylvania

Approximately 2,600 inmates nationwide serve life without parole sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles; approximately 414 of them are serving in Pennsylvania—the most of any U.S. jurisdiction.