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Many States Still Sentence Juveniles to Life Without Parole

A report released by the Sentencing Project showed that only 13 of 28 states have complied with a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling to abolish mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles.

The majority of the states have done nothing to pursue statutory reform, while others instituted loopholes to continue sentencing minors to long-term punishments.   Forty-four states still have the option to sentence offenders under the age of 18 to life in prison.

The precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 was meant to enact sweeping changes in sentencing processes.  Citing the “principle of proportionality,” the decision stated that mandatory life sentences without parole for defendants under the age of 18 violate the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. It built on a previous ruling that struck down life sentences for non-homicide offenses and required juries to give consideration to mitigating factors such as mental development and potential for rehabilitation.

More than half of the states that allow mandatory life sentences for minors have made no effort to repeal their law.  Many of the states that complied with the ruling simply reduced the required minimums to several decades while others which technically complied with the ruling, allows life without parole as an option rather than mandatory.  These kinds of tough-on-crime policies ignore the possibility that there are juveniles who can be rehabilitated.

However, there has been some improvements.  A few states have sought to end life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders. California and West Virginia allows parole reviews after 15 years while Utah allows parole reviews after 25 years.

The United States is the only country in the world that sentences children to life without the possibility of parole.



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