The High Cost of Juvenile Life-without-Parole Sentences
Date:  03-01-2020

Pennsylvania, Michigan and Louisiana account for two-thirds o juvenile LWOP sentences
From The Sentencing Project:

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have banned life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles; in a handful of other states, no one is serving the sentence.

There were 2,310 people serving life-without-parole sentences for crimes committed as juveniles (known as JLWOP) at yearend 2016. In its 2017 ruling in Montgomery v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court invalidated all existing JLWOP sentences that had been imposed by mandatory statute. As a result, youth sentenced to parole-ineligible life sentences in 29 states and the federal government are now in the process of having their original sentences reviewed or have been granted a new sentence. In a small fraction of cases, individuals have been released from prison. The post-Montgomery years have surely included a decline in the juvenile life without parole population, though there is not exact count as of yet.1)

Following the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama2) states and the federal government are required to consider the unique circumstances of each juvenile defendant in determining an individualized sentence. Montgomery v. Louisiana,3) a 2016 decision, ensures that the decision applies retroactively. For juveniles, a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional.

Research on adolescent brain development confirms the commonsense understanding that children are different from adults in ways that are critical to identifying age appropriate criminal sentences. This understanding – Justice Kennedy called it what “any parent knows”4) – was central to four recent Supreme Court decisions excluding juveniles from the harshest sentencing practices. The most recent, Montgomery, emphasized that the use of life without parole (mandatorily or not) should only be reserved for those juveniles whose offenses reflected “irreparable corruption,”5) a ruling that Justice Scalia (in dissent) wrote may eventually “eliminat[e] life without parole for juvenile offenders.”6) Continue reading >>>