There are 2,500 juveniles serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in the United States, but activists and lawmakers are fighting to make these sentences unconstitutional. On Thursday, “the California Assembly passed a bill by the slimmest of margins that would give juvenile lifers in that state a shot at freedom” (Huffington Post). The U.S. Supreme Court also recently ruled mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional.
Sentences of life without parole are typically given to juveniles who have committed premeditated murder. In 2011, 13-year-old Jordan Brown became the youngest person to face life without parole after he shot and killed his father’s pregnant fiancee.
Many, including attorney Michael Harris, believe that life without parole sentences are too severe for juvenile offenders. He says, “Because their brain is still developing, they have the ability to rehabilitate. They are more likely to rehabilitate than an adult” (Huffington Post).
According to Amnesty International, the United States prison system is alone in sentencing juveniles to life without parole. While several other countries technically allow the practice, the US is the only country to actually have enforced it in recent years. Although the recent Supreme Court decision shows that Americans are leaning away from the practice, it has not yet been abolished.
Support for the sentences
Some family members and friends of victims who have been murdered by juveniles defend the practice of life without parole sentencing.
Maggie Elvey, the wife of a shooting victim, said, “They say they deserve a second chance, but the victims don’t get a second chance” (Huffington Post).
Others believe that some juvenile offenders are beyond rehabilitation and should serve life sentences for the protection of the public.
What do you think? Should juveniles serve life without parole? Or should they benefit from chances to reduce their sentences and rejoin society as rehabilitated adults? Share your thoughts in the comments below.