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July 31, 2017

AP series looks deeply at a "patchwork of justice" for juve lifers after Graham and Miller

The AP has some new in-depth reporting on juvenile LWOP sentences and resentencings in this series labeled "Locked Up For Life."   This lead article published today is headlined "AP Investigation: A patchwork of justice for juvenile lifers," and here are some excerpts from the extended piece:

Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory life without parole for juveniles in murder cases.  Last year, the court went further, saying the more than 2,000 already serving such sentences must get a chance to show their crimes did not reflect “irreparable corruption” and, if not, have some hope for freedom.

But prison gates don’t just swing open. Instead, uncertainty and opposition stirred by the new mandate have resulted in an uneven patchwork of policies as courts and lawmakers wrestle with these complicated, painful cases.  The odds of release or continued imprisonment vary from state to state, even county to county, in a pattern that can make justice seem arbitrary.

The Associated Press surveyed all 50 states to see how judges and prosecutors, lawmakers and parole boards are re-examining juvenile lifer cases. Some have resentenced and released dozens of those deemed to have rehabilitated themselves and served sufficient time.  Others have delayed review of cases, skirted the ruling on seeming technicalities or fought to keep the vast majority of their affected inmates locked up for life.

Many victims’ relatives are also battling to keep these offenders in prison.  They “already had their chance, their days in court, their due process,” says Candy Cheatham. Her father, Cole Cannon, was killed in 2003 in Alabama by Evan Miller, the 14-year-old whose no-parole sentence was the basis for the 2012 sentencing ban....

The AP’s review found very different brands of justice from place to place.  For years, officials in states with the most juvenile life cases were united in arguing that the Supreme Court’s ban on life without parole did not apply retroactively to inmates already serving such sentences. Now, states are heading in decidedly different directions....

The AP also found that while many states have taken steps to make former teen criminals eligible for parole, in practice, officials regularly deny release.  In Missouri, the parole board has turned down 20 of 23 juvenile lifers, according to the MacArthur Justice Center, which filed a federal lawsuit this year claiming the board is denying the state’s juvenile life-without-parole inmates a meaningful chance for release as required by the Supreme Court....  Maryland, meantime, has 271 juvenile lifers whose sentences have always given them a chance for release.  But no such prisoner has won parole in more than 20 years, prompting a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union....

The impact of last year’s Supreme Court ruling goes far beyond the 2,000-plus offenders who faced mandatory no-parole sentences as teens.  In many states, legal challenges are being mounted on behalf of juveniles sentenced to life without parole at the discretion of a judge or jury, or those who are legally entitled to parole but serving such lengthy terms they are unlikely to ever get out.  The latter group encompasses some 7,300 inmates, according to The Sentencing Project.  The Supreme Court didn’t specifically address these cases, however, and that’s led to different outcomes.

July 31, 2017 at 09:48 AM | Permalink


Parole is a matter of grace---the "meaningful chance of release" doesn't upend that.

This is why, in states where the governor has right to commute sentence, the Supreme Court constitutionalized the identity of the decisionmaker. That's snort-worthy.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 31, 2017 9:54:14 AM

Meaningful chance means a hearing at which the parole board considers the pros and cons of granting parole -- including the circumstances of the original case and what steps the defendant has taken to rehabilitate themselves while incarcerated. In the overwhelming majority of cases, those factors are not currently good for inmates.

First, while perhaps not as small a group as the Supreme Court thinks is appropriate, those who received life without parole (at least from the cases that I know in my state) tended to have committed an offense with significant aggravating factors that would suggest that parole board's should be cautious in granting parole. (And the Supreme Court has not clearly addressed how long it is acceptable to hold these inmates before giving them release.) Second, since -- until Miller and Montgomery -- these offenders had no hope of release, they had little reason to avoid minor disciplinary issues or to pursue the type of programs that might demonstrate a desire to reform.

In most states, the denial of parole results in the scheduling of a review/reconsideration hearing in several years, not the permanent denial of parole. Given the lack of incentive to build the type of record that demonstrates that an inmate is a good parole risk up until recently, it should not surprise anybody that the first batch of inmates are getting poor results from their parole hearings. Some of the folks who are being turned down now should get parole when they come up for a second time (and have put in several years of effort to show that they are parole worthy). Similarly, those with newer cases (who have not yet come up for a parole hearing) should get better results than this first batch as they will have the time to build a "resume" before their hearings.

Posted by: tmm | Jul 31, 2017 10:58:41 AM

The cases say that certain teen offenders should have the chance of parole and this means life in prison is not a lock (minus some special dispensation from the governor or whatever). This doesn't mean they should get parole after ten years in prison or something.

OTOH, when we are talking about sixteen year old offenders in prison for thirty or so years, the case for parole is stronger. At some point, the theoretical sixty-five year old long term inmate shouldn't have to deal with THAT "cautious" of a process.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 31, 2017 12:03:20 PM

ACLU scum, home addresses or STFU. We are moving all released juvenile murderers to the houses surrounding yours.

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 31, 2017 8:21:18 PM

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