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February 15, 2006

Life without parole for juvenile may be cruel, but it is not unusual

With thanks to Howard Bashman for the link, today's must-read for those interested in topics beyond the Sixth Amendment is this fascinating article from the Philadelphia Daily News entitled "No future: Pa. leads nation in juveniles serving life sentences."  The article is full of data and insights about life sentences for juvenile offenses, and here are a few notable passages:

With an exploding number of kids becoming killers, more than 2,225 juveniles across the country now are serving life in prison without parole....  Because of tough state laws such as charging murder suspects as adults regardless of their age, Pennsylvania tops the nation in the number of young offenders condemned to life in prison without parole....

[Alison] Parker [from Human Rights Watch] authored a report released last fall that found that 42 states permit judges and juries to condemn juveniles to life in prison without parole, despite widespread global rejection of that penalty for young offenders. Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of juvenile lifers, with more than 330 [and] ... 59 percent of the juveniles serving life-without-parole sentences nationally had no prior criminal convictions before being placed in prison for life, according to Parker's report....

[Advocates of reform] point to New Jersey as a model, where murder convicts face a minimum of 30 years in prison without parole.  Judges then decide if the case warrants a more severe penalty based on the circumstances.  While the Garden State allows juveniles to be sentenced to life in prison without parole, the Amnesty International study found no juvenile lifers there.  States that don't allow life-without-parole sentences for juveniles are Alaska, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Mexico, New York and West Virginia; the District of Columbia also forbids them. 

The report referenced in this article is entitled "The Rest of Their Lives: Life Without Parole for Child Offenders in the United States" and is available at this link.  As the title of my post hints, I think that, in the wake of the Roper decision precluding the application of the death penalty to juvenile offenders, the next notable Eighth Amendment battleground could be LWOP sentences for juveniles. 

But the data suggests that, while perhaps cruel, LWOP sentences for juveniles are not unusual.  Indeed, it is remarkable and telling that Pennsylvania has over 100 more defendants serving LWOP sentences for juvenile offenses than defendants on its death row.  That fact alone leads me back to my recent rant that many other defendants besides those on death row merit the attention of public policy groups and others concerned about the operation of our criminal justice system.

February 15, 2006 at 01:55 PM | Permalink

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Comments

In Texas, prosecutors' desire to put juvies in prison forever after Roper was why LWOP passed here last year. The same legislation removed the sentence of life with possibility for parole after 40 years in capital cases. Personally, I thought it was a bad deal, but the anti-DP groups supported it.

Posted by: Scott | Feb 15, 2006 2:55:55 PM

I am a grad student in criminal justice and would
appreciate any info you might have concerning
juveniles and their life without parole.

Posted by: Mary DeNinno | Jun 28, 2006 9:05:15 AM

Pennsylvania Constitution prohibits "cruel punishment". So, by this article's statement that LWOP for a juvenile is indeed "cruel punishment", PA's 1st place lead for sentencing juveniles to LWOP violates it's own constitution. If only the state would realize this and correct it, we'd be on to something positive here.

Posted by: R Downey | Aug 27, 2006 1:14:26 PM

I find it hard to believe that juveniles can be held for life!
This was a very informative blog and I was shocked.I can see it at maybe 14 or older,especially the likes of Kip Kinkel or the Columbine crew,but children under 12 I couldn't possibly be ok with it.Yes there has to be accountability,but is this really the answer?

Posted by: carolynne | Jan 25, 2007 11:32:27 PM

I am a senior lecturer in Crime, Law, and Justice at Penn State and regularly teach a law and society course. This semester, when selecting materials for the part of the course I devote to the criminal justice system, I chose a PBS Frontline video, "When Kids Get Life" (viewable online at the Frontline website), but admit that I never really considered the issue of juveniles receiving life without parole before watching the video. My focus was always on juveniles and the death penalty. I intend to expand my coverage of juvenile LWOP in future semesters, especially in light of Pennsylvania's distinction of leading the U.S. in juvenile LWOP sentences and will be happy to share any new information/perspectives that I encounter.

In the meantime, I strongly recommend the Frontline video to anyone interested in this topic.

Thanks to you, Professor Berman, for your extremely helpful website. I've bookmarked it for future reference.

Posted by: Howard Smith | Nov 29, 2007 12:42:48 PM

I am a masters in criminal justice student and an advocate for Juvenile Justice reform. I wrote a very informative paper for a procedure class if anybody is interested I have it in Word 07 and pdf format. Email me if you'd like a copy. stephen.schofield@sbcglobal.net

Posted by: Steve | Jan 7, 2008 8:59:04 PM

Can someone versed in law explain to me how a judge can sentence a juvenile to life in prison and then add 15-20 years on top of that? How can a juvenile do the 15-20 years on top of a life sentence if they're dead? Appreciate any responses. By the way - this is in reference to a crime committed back in 1990.

Posted by: Kim Muhammad | May 4, 2008 1:47:32 PM

I am friend of a juvenile without parole. He has been in prison for 27 years. He did not actually commit the murder but helped dispose of the body, in fear for his own life. I just don't understand these laws and how some people commit murder and are out within a matter of years. And here is Scott, who grew up in prison without the chance of ever being released. When is punishment over??? In death? These were decisions that were totally wrong on his part...but he was a 15 year old child at the time. I'd appreciate any information on how to go about seeking an appeal for him if thats even possible after all these years.
I do find your site interesting and the information useful especially seeing how different laws are from state to state. We are in Pennsylvania and I to me it sounds like the toughest state on juvenile's sentenced to life. Is there any information that I may find useful in pursuing any kind of appeal?

Posted by: Cheryl | Jun 5, 2008 7:48:10 PM

I am friend of a juvenile without parole. He has been in prison for 27 years. He did not actually commit the murder but helped dispose of the body, in fear for his own life. I just don't understand these laws and how some people commit murder and are out within a matter of years. And here is Scott, who grew up in prison without the chance of ever being released. When is punishment over??? In death? These were decisions that were totally wrong on his part...but he was a 15 year old child at the time. I'd appreciate any information on how to go about seeking an appeal for him if thats even possible after all these years.
I do find your site interesting and the information useful especially seeing how different laws are from state to state. We are in Pennsylvania and I to me it sounds like the toughest state on juvenile's sentenced to life. Is there any information that I may find useful in pursuing any kind of appeal?

Posted by: Cheryl | Jun 5, 2008 7:48:14 PM

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Posted by: | Oct 14, 2008 10:33:13 PM

I am a 19 year old male who has been in trouble with the law. I served a little less than a year at a tough juvenile prison. I was released from juvenile probation when I was discharged from the facility where I served my time. I know my experiences are insignificant compared to juveniles who are sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, but I feel that I must speak out anyway because not long ago, I was headed down that road and I know many people, juveniles and adults alike, who are serving prison sentences condemning them to a lonely death behind bars. In my opinion the United State's toughening stance on crime is not stopping or even reducing violent crime, drug dealing, drug use, or any other kind of crime. Judges, prosecutors, and law enforcment are simply locking people up and throwing away the key. And what is even more unjust is that they are locking people up for life for non-violent crimes. The so-called "three strike Rule" where a person is simply categorized as a "habitual felon" and classified as "irredeemable" after their third felony conviction, has lead to more packed prisons and more lives that are simply thrown away. We as Americans need to collectively understand that it is cruel and unusual to simply lock people up for life. And I know that most Americans have no sympathy for killers, rapists, and drug dealers, but like it or not, these are people to. They have mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters just like you. They eat, drink, breathe, bleed, feel, and hurt just like you. Yes, SOME of them have comitted monstrous crimes, but everyone deserves a second chance. And my heart does go out to the victims and their families but my heart also goes out to the men and women, boys and girls, who will never be a free person again. "LET HIM WHO IS WITHOUT SIN CAST THE FIRST STONE"
REDEMPTION IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE.

Posted by: J. DeNiri | May 4, 2009 5:12:17 PM

As a retired Police Officer and an active prisoner advocate I never cease to be amazed at the extremity and finality of this statute! From my background I understand how society was faced with an overwhelming number of capital offenses committed by juveniles and had the responsibility of addressing them. But to take away the fact that a juvenile is not capable of being mentally culpable, due to his age, for these crimes is not excusable. Rather this was an terrible over reaction to the number of these crimes being committed by a society that had no answers and was seeking a quick fix to a terrible situation! How do we as a society say that a child, and that is what these people were at the time, are not mentally culpable enough to assent to a sexual relationship, vote, often drive, or serve in the armed forces yet they are to be held responsible if they are charged and convicted of a murder. This statute also removes the possibility of any rehabilitation and condemms the convicted to a slow death being incarcerated for an act committed before he or she was completely responsible for their actions. This statute is totally wrong and must be addressed and changed by a just and moral society.

Posted by: pd_blues | Sep 24, 2009 11:37:05 AM

Hi my name is bob uhaul I think that this is a confusing statement. One minute we were all talking about cars and now were juvenile delinkwents?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Posted by: Bob Uhaul | Nov 9, 2009 3:10:24 PM

I would be grateful for any references, literature etc. you could recommend on the use of preventative detention with juveniles as well as anything on the process whereby young people can demonstrate a reduction in risk and therefore be released.
Thanks

Posted by: Lorraine Johnstone | Feb 24, 2010 4:10:07 PM




Innocence Institute Unleashes Justice Vol. 2
New magazine investigates cases of juveniles serving life in prison




Contact Us
201 Wood Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
412.765.3164
innocence@pointpark.edu

Friends,

In 1997, Greg Brown Jr. was tried and sentenced to life in prison for igniting a blaze in his family's Homewood residence that lead to the death of three City of Pittsburgh firefighters. Brown has always claimed innocence in the arson he was convicted of committing when he was 17-years-old, but now, after a multi-year investigation by the Innocence Institute, new evidence supports Brown's claim that he did not commit the crime that landed him in prison for life.

Brown's incredible story and others are now available exclusively in the Innocence Institute's newly-released Justice magazine -- a visceral, 70-page collection of investigative journalism outlining the stories of 15 young men and women including Brown who were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole before they turned 18-years-old. These cases primarily take place in Pennsylvania because the Keystone State incarcerates more juvenile lifers than any other state in the country by far.

Members of this rare group of prisoners -- collectively known as "juvenile lifers" -- are the subject of a prominent nationwide debate that has resulted in two recent rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States. Those rulings strengthened advocates' belief that kids are by nature different from adults and should therefore be given special treatment when they are sentenced to lifetime prison terms.

To find out more about Pennsylvania's strict laws for juvenile lifers -- and to read 16 stories about young people sentenced to life in prison for crimes they allegedly committed before they turned 18 -- please visit this link.


For more information about:

*scheduling press interviews with Innocence Institute writers featured in Justice magazine volume 2,

*contacting veteran investigative reporter and Innocence Institute director Bill Moushey,

*receiving the print edition of Justice magazine by mail, or

*answering other questions about the Innocence Institute of Point Park University, please contact us here:


Innocence Institute of Point Park University
201 Wood Street
Pittsburgh, PA
15222
412.765.3164
innocence@pointpark.edu


Thank you,
Bill Moushey
The Innocence Institute
http://www.innocenceinstitute.org


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Innocence Institute

The Innocence Institute of Point Park University is a nonprofit, 501(c)3, journalism-based organization that investigates claims of wrongful conviction within 100 miles of Pittsburgh, Pa. For more information about the Innocence Institute, visit us at www.InnocenceInstitute.org

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Posted by: Bill Moushey | Dec 23, 2010 10:56:58 AM

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