Thursday, May 29, 2008

Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act of 2007 (Introduced in House)

Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement
Act of 2007 (Introduced in House)

HR 4300 IH

1st Session

H. R. 4300

To establish a meaningful opportunity for parole for each child offender sentenced to life in prison, and for other purposes.


December 6, 2007

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia (for himself and Mr. CONYERS) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary


To establish a meaningful opportunity for parole for each child offender sentenced to life in prison, and for other purposes.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


    This Act may be cited as the `Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act of 2007'.


    Congress finds the following:
      (1) Historically, courts in the United States have recognized the undeniable differences between adult and youth offenders.
      (2) In fact, while writing for the majority in Roper v. Simmons (125 S. Ct. 1183), a recent Supreme Court decision abolishing use of the death penalty for juveniles, Justice Kennedy declared such differences to be `marked and well understood.'
      (3) Notwithstanding such edicts, many youth are being sentenced in a manner that has typically been reserved for adults. These sentences include a term of imprisonment of life without the possibility of parole.
      (4) The decision to sentence youthful offenders to life without parole is an issue of growing national concern.
      (5) While only about a dozen youth are serving such sentences in the rest of the world, research indicates that there are at least 2,225 youth offenders serving life without parole in the United States.
      (6) The estimated rate at which the sentence is imposed on children nationwide remains at least three times higher today than it was fifteen years ago.
      (7) The majority of youth sentenced to life without parole are first-time offenders.
      (8) Sixteen percent of these individuals were fifteen or younger when they committed their crimes.
      (9) Denying such individuals the possibility of a meaningful opportunity for parole is both cruel and unwise. It sends a message to our youth that they are beyond rehabilitation. It also demonstrates a complete lack of confidence in the ability of our penal institutions to accomplish one of their main goals and responsibilities.


    (a) In General- For each fiscal year after the expiration of the period specified in subsection (d)(1), each State shall have in effect laws and policies under which each child offender who is under a life sentence receives, not less than once during the first 15 years of incarceration, and not less than once every 3 years of incarceration thereafter, a meaningful opportunity for parole. Not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Attorney General shall issue guidelines and regulations to interpret and implement this section. This provision shall in no way be construed to limit the access of child offenders to other programs and appeals which they were rightly due prior to the passage of this Act.
    (b) Definition- In this section, the term `child offender who is under a life sentence' means an individual who--
      (1) is convicted of an offense committed before the individual attained the age of 18; and
      (2) is sentenced to a term of natural life, or the functional equivalent in years, for that offense.
    (c) Applicability- This section applies to an individual who is sentenced on or after the date of the enactment of this Act as well as to an individual who had already been sentenced as of the date of the enactment of this Act.
    (d) Compliance and Consequences-
      (1) COMPLIANCE DATE- Each State shall have not more than 3 years from the date of enactment of this Act to be in compliance with this section, except that the Attorney General may grant a 2-year extension to a State that is making a good faith effort to comply with this section.
      (2) CONSEQUENCE OF NONCOMPLIANCE- For any fiscal year after the expiration of the period specified in paragraph (1), a State that fails to be in compliance with this section shall not receive 10 percent of the funds that would otherwise be allocated for that fiscal year to that State under subpart 1 of part E of title I of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (42 U.S.C. 3750 et seq.), whether characterized as the Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Programs, the Local Government Law Enforcement Block Grants program, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, or otherwise.
      (3) REALLOCATION- Amounts not allocated under a program referred to in paragraph (2) to a State for failure to be in compliance with this section shall be reallocated under that program to States that have not failed to be in compliance with this section.


    In addition to any other method of early release that may apply, the Attorney General shall establish and implement a system of early release for each child offender who is under a life sentence (as defined in section 3) in a Federal facility. The system shall conform as nearly as practicable to the laws and policies required of a State under section 3.


    (a) In General- The Attorney General shall award grants to States for the purpose of improving the quality of legal representation provided to child defendants charged with an offense which could potentially subject them to the sentence of life in prison.
    (b) Defined Term- In this section, the term `legal representation' means legal counsel and investigative, expert, and other services necessary for competent representation.
    (c) Use of Funds- Grants awarded under subsection (a) shall be used to establish, implement, or improve a system for providing competent legal representation to--
      (1) individuals charged with committing, before the individual attained the age of 18, an offense subject to life imprisonment; and
      (2) individuals convicted of, and sentenced to life for, committing such an offense who seek appellate or collateral relief, including review in the Supreme Court of the United States.
    (d) Authorization of Appropriations- There are authorized to be appropriated to carry out this section such sums as may be necessary.

Friday, May 23, 2008

¿Dónde está la justicia? A Call to Action on Behalf of Latino and Latina Youth in the U.S. Justice System

Click here to view the report in full-screen.

Children in Adult Jails

The New York Times

May 23, 2008

Children who are confined to adult jails are at greater risk of being raped, battered or pushed to suicide. They also are more likely to become violent criminals than children handled through the juvenile justice system. When Congress reauthorizes the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, it should press the states to end this barbaric practice.

The juvenile justice law provides federal aid to states that agree to humanize their often Dickensian systems — and to refrain from placing children in adult jails. The bargain worked well enough until the 1990s, when there was an outbreak of hysteria about so-called super predators and an adolescent crime wave that never materialized.

States classified ever larger numbers of young offenders as adults. Today, laws in more than 40 states permit adult courts to try children as young as 14. Perhaps as many as half the young people who are transferred into the adult system are never convicted as adults — and some are never convicted at all. But by the time the system is finished with them, many will have spent more than six months in adult jails, according to a report by the Campaign for Youth Justice, an advocacy group based in Washington.

Not surprisingly, these young people are much more likely to harm themselves in adult jails than in juvenile facilities. Those who survive often return to their communities as damaged people who are much more likely to commit crimes and return to prison.

The current system is counterproductive and inhumane. Congress could remedy this with one simple fix. It should require all states that receive federal juvenile justice aid to refrain from housing people under the age of 18 in adult jails, except for those accused of the most serious crimes like rape and murder.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Some States Consider Repealing Life Without Parole for Teens

Legislatures in several states, including California, Illinois, and Michigan, are considering proposals to end the practice of sentencing offenders under the age of 18 to life in prison without parole.

According to Human Rights Watch, there are at least 2,380 individuals currently serving life sentences in the United States for crimes they committed when they were 17 years old or younger. The offenders were tried in state courts under laws allowing the transfer of children, in certain circumstances, from the juvenile justice system to the adult courts and in states that have lowered the age of jurisdiction in adult criminal court to 17 years old or younger. Thirty-eight states allow life without parole for teenage offenders, according to Human Rights Watch, which has been campaigning against the practice for several years.

Backers of legislation to eliminate life without parole for youth offenses say the practice does not take into consideration neuroscientific research indicating that immature brains lack impulse control and the ability that adults have to use judgment.

Researchers have documented that children cannot be expected to have achieved the same level of psychological and neurological development as an adult even when they become teenagers. Additionally, the practice has been shown to disproportionally affect racial minorities, and that teenagers who receive such sentences often had poor legal representation.

A package of bills that would eliminate life without parole for children is pending in the Michigan legislature. Currently, 300 individuals are serving that sentence in Michigan. The legislation makes these individuals eligible for parole consideration and allows judges to use discretion when deciding what type of punishment best fits the crime.

Excerpt from: Criminal Justice Newsletter, February 15, 2008

Sunday, May 18, 2008

US: California May End ‘Life Without Parole’ for Youth

Committee Approves Bill to Reform Sentencing of Young Offenders

(Sacramento, April 8, 2008) – The California Senate’s Public Safety Committee has taken a historic step toward ending the practice of sentencing youth to die in prison by passing a reform bill, Human Rights Watch said today.

The committee voted 3 to 2 in favor of the Juvenile Life Without Parole Reform Act (Senate Bill 1199), which would eliminate life-without-parole sentences for offenders under age 18. It would instead impose a sentence of 25 years to life, giving young offenders access to parole after 25 years if they show convincing evidence of rehabilitation.

“Today’s vote shows that California can give young people a parole hearing – which is not a get-out-of-jail-free card – without compromising public safety,” said Alison Parker, deputy director of the US program at Human Rights Watch. “The full California Senate should pass SB 1199 so that young prisoners will have a chance to redeem themselves.”

Human Rights Watch and a wide range of organizations and individuals across California called upon the full Senate and Assembly to pass SB 1199, which requires a two-thirds majority to become law. The bill was authored by Senator Leland Yee of San Francisco and San Mateo counties, together with four co-authors.

Parker, a contributor to Human Rights Watch’s January 2008 report “When I Die, They’ll Send Me Home: Youth in California Sentenced to Life without Parole”, testified on the report’s findings at the Public Safety Committee hearing in Sacramento on April 8, 2008. She explained that California has sentenced youth to life without parole in ways that undermine standards of justice and fair play.

In nearly 70 percent of California cases reported to Human Rights Watch in which a youth committed a crime with others and was sentenced to life without parole, at least one codefendant was an adult. Survey responses indicate that in 56 percent of those cases, the adult received a more lenient sentence than the juvenile. Also, 45 percent of California youth sentenced to life without parole for involvement in a murder did not actually kill the victim. Many were convicted of felony murder, or for aiding and abetting crimes.

“It’s shocking that California actually punishes young offenders more harshly than their adult co-defendants, even when the kids aren’t the ones pulling the trigger,” Parker said. “Juveniles aren’t adults and shouldn’t be treated like them, but California sends under-18s off to die in prison without even the possibility of a second chance.”

California has the worst record in the nation for racial disparities in the sentencing of juveniles to life without parole: black youth are serving the sentence at a per-capita rate that is 18 times the rate for white youth. This difference in treatment cannot be explained by higher levels of arrest of black youth. Black youth arrested for murder in California are sentenced to life without parole at a rate that is 5.8 times that of white youth arrested for murder.

Randall Hagar, director of governmental affairs for the California Psychiatric Association, based his testimony in support of SB 1199 on current scientific research showing that the brains of youth are still developing and maturing. Jim Lindburg, of the Friends Committee on Legislation of California, testified on behalf of SB 1199 as an appropriate response to the very high costs of California’s prisons, and because “redemption still has value in our society.”

International law prohibits life-without-parole sentences for those who commit their crimes before the age of 18, and no country outside the United States applies the sentence to youth. There are 227 California prisoners serving sentences of life without parole for crimes committed when they were under 18.

For more information about SB 1199 please click here, and here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

"Three Wise Men" by Arthur Argomaniz

"Three Wise Men" by Arthur Argomaniz is an essay by a University of Southern California (USC) McNair Scholar which addresses the need to abolish juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences in the USA. Argomaniz specifically mentions and quotes Efren Paredes, Jr., Mario Rocha, and Anthony Throop throughout the essay and shares their insight into the issue of JLWOP with the reader. A well-written and compelling essay that should be read and circulated widely.

Read this doc on Scribd: Three Wise Men by Arthur Argomaniz
Read this doc on Scribd: Three Wise Men by Arthur Argomaniz

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Student Financial Aid and Scholarships

There have been several requests from people about where students can find grants, scholarships, and financial aid to assist them with college, particularly those interested in researching adolescent development and juvenile justice. Below are some links that may be helpful:

Guaranteed Scholarships

The scholarships listed on this page are all guaranteed.

By guaranteed scholarships, we mean those which are unlimited in number, and require no interview, essay, portfolio, audition, competition or other "secondary" requirement. Just meet the criteria listed, adhere to the application deadlines set by the individual colleges and universities, gain admission, enroll, and receive your scholarship or scholarships. Remember that, in many cases, the scholarships are mutually will generally receive the largest scholarship or grant for which you qualify.


Additional Sources

Open Society Institute - Grants, Scholarships & Fellowships

Student Financial Aid

Financial Aid Finder

Thursday, May 8, 2008

"End Natural Life Sentences for Juveniles" by Dr. Jeffrey Fagan

Fagan, Jeffrey. "End Natural Life Sentences for Juveniles." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CRIMINOLOGY, Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atlanta, Georgia.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Abolish Life Without Parole Sentence for Children in the USA - Google Group

If you would like to join an e-mail group to receive updates about Michigan House Bills 4402-4405 whenever they are released please visit the group and join it. The group's URL is

By becoming a member you will also be able to access past e-mail threads that remain on the group's page. You can also help us add relevant resource material to the group's page for people to access and share by sending us links to the information for us to post.

There is a serious need to educate supporters who are seeking to abolish LWOP sentences for children. They need to have as much information at their disposal to use. Working to equip them with these resources is important for all of us.

The more supporter e-mail addresses we can have become a part of the Google Group the more people we can educate, the further we can broaden our influence, and the more support we can garner.

Please send a link to this blog post to everyone you know who supports the campaign to abolish LWOP sentence for children and ask them to do the same.

Michigan House Bills 4402-4405 Legislative Analysis - Proposes Abolishment of Life Without Parole Sentences for Juveniles

Categorically Less Culpable: Children Sentenced to Life Without Possibility of Parole in Illinois

The Illinois Coalition For Fair Sentencing of Children is a group of attorneys, academics, child advocates, and concerned citizens who are pursuing judicial, legislative, and other avenues designed to end the practice of sentencing children under the age of 18 to life without the possibility of parole (“JLWOP”) in Illinois.

On February 13, 2008 we released a report, “Categorically Less Culpable: Children Sentenced to Life Without Possibility of Parole in Illinois.”

▸ View the official press release (pdf)

▸ View the Report: "Categorically Less Culpable: Children Sentenced to Life Without Possibility of Parole in Illinois" (pdf)

▸ View the Executive Summary (pdf)

View the bill, HB 4384

Coalition Members | Contact Us | Media and Related Links

Coalition Members
American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois
Children and Family Justice Center, Bluhm Legal Clinic, Northwestern University School of Law
Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, University of Chicago School of Law
Human Rights Watch, Chicago Committee
John Howard Association of Illinois
Juvenile Justice Initiative
Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender

Contact Us
Phone: 312-503-0396

Media and Related Links

National Media Coverage

New York Times, A Shameful Record, February 6, 2008 : “Juvenile crime should not be taken lightly, but young people should not be completely written off….Locking up juveniles for life without parole is unfair and a poor use of criminal justice resources.”

San Francisco Chronicle, Redemption and Rehabilitation, January 18, 2008: “[a]ll of those arguments [in Roper v. Simmons, which invalidated the juvenile death penalty] also could be applied to laws that put juveniles in prison without the possibility of parole. . .”

Los Angeles Times, Locking up Kids for Life: California can sentence criminals under 18 to life without parole. It's cruel and unusual punishment, January 16, 2008: Citing international law and new neuroscience, “…it is perverse to condemn a minor to prison for life for committing a crime that he or she might find unthinkable on reaching adulthood.”

St. Petersburg Times, When It's Wrong to Throw Away the Key , January 6, 2008 : In supporting legislation aimed at giving kids sentenced to life a second chance, the Times rhetorically asked: “[h]as the state simply given up on any possibility that teenagers might one day turn their lives around?”

Chicago Tribune, Parole Proposed for Youths Who Kill, November 27, 2007

New York Times, Lifers as Teenagers, Now Seeking Second Chance, October 17, 2007

Nationally Published Reports

When I Die, They'll Send Me Home, Human Rights Watch, California (January 2008)

Sentencing Our Children to Die in Prison, Global Law and Practice, University of San Francisco School of Law (November 2007)

Cruel and Unusual: Sentencing 13- and 14-year old Children to Die in Prison, Equal Justice Initiative, (November 2007)

The Rest of Their Lives, Human Rights Watch (October 2005)

Second Chances: Juveniles Serving Life Without Parole in Michigan Prisons, Michigan ACLU (2004)

Give the Kids a Break

Give the Kids a Break
It's time to ease the too-tough, and ill-conceived, sentencing of juveniles.

By Annette Fuentes
Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Vengeance and harsh retribution have been the guiding principles in our treatment of youth in the criminal justice system since the crack-cocaine tinged crime wave of the late 1980s crested and then fell in the mid-1990s. States got tough with laws that allowed the prosecution of juveniles as adults in certain felony crimes, as well as the sentencing of youth convicted of murder-related crimes to life without the chance of parole.

Now a downturn in violent juvenile crime, coupled with more data on the development of the adolescent brain, are prompting some states to rethink whether the harsh punishments still fit the crimes.

The time for change is right, even in cases involving juveniles arrested and convicted of murder and related crimes, such as aiding and abetting a murder. There are rumblings for reform in several statehouses.

In 2006, Colorado led the way by outlawing sentences of life without the possibility of parole for youth offenders. In California, state Sen. Leland Yee just introduced a bill to prohibit such sentences for offenders who were younger than 18 at the time of the crime. His measure would allow judges discretion in sentencing. Absent a national movement for juvenile sentencing reform, the battles are often being waged by individual legislators such as Yee or through grassroots activism in states, such as in Washington, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska and Massachusetts.

Why should we change course now?

First, look at crime trends. For a decade, violent and property crimes by juveniles have fallen nationwide. In every category of crime from violent felonies such as homicide and rape, to property crimes of auto theft or robbery, juvenile rates have been steadily falling, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics:

• For murder and non-negligent (not accidental) murder, the number of people under 18 arrested dropped from 1,224 in 1997 to 710 in 2006. That's a 42% decline. For those over 18, there was a 13% dip.

• Youth arrests for theft fell 45%; for aggravated assault, by 21%; auto thefts, by 53%.

• Arrests of young people for violent crimes fell by 20% from 1997 to 2006.

Experts see various reasons for the dramatic drop: the end of the crack-cocaine epidemic and its attendant violence; effective policing strategies in major urban areas, especially those that focused on illegal gun possession; and generally rosier economic times.

But it was during the height of the earlier crime wave that today's laws were crafted. Criminologists warned of a new breed of juvenile offender, dubbed "superpredator" by John Dilulio, who would bring a "blood bath" of violent crime, according to James Alan Fox. That hysteria proved wrong, as evidenced by the falling crime rates among adolescents and youth.

Biological reasons also provide a strong basis for reform. Current research has identified critical differences between the young brain and the adult one, especially in terms of decision-making skills and impulse control.

These adolescent development issues are what prompted Sen. Yee to spearhead reform in his state. Yee, a child psychologist, told The Oakland Tribune: "Adolescent impulse control, planning and critical thinking skills are still not yet fully developed. Children have an extraordinary capacity for rehabilitation."

Still not convinced? Human Rights Watch provides a sobering analysis in its recent report titled, "When I die, that's when they'll send me home." It reveals that in California, 227 people in prison today were sentenced to life without parole when they were juveniles, and all but four were sentenced since that state passed its sentencing law in 1990. Of those, 45% did not commit the actual murder. They were convicted as accessories to murder, often as lookouts during a robbery gone awry.

Another argument for reform: According to data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the Department of Justice, about two-thirds of youth ages 16-17 who committed crimes as juveniles including assaults, theft, and vandalism did not commit crimes into their early adult years, ages 18-19.

Advocates for crime victims have staunchly opposed sentencing reforms such as Yee's, and that's understandable, says Elizabeth Calvin, co-author of the Human Rights Watch report.

"What makes it difficult when you are talking about a crime like murder, which is so horrible and causes so much pain to families and communities, is that it doesn't help their pain if the offender is a juvenile," Calvin says. "But sentencing laws and how we treat our young say a lot about our society."

In some cases, youth convicted of brutal crimes might not be deserving of consideration. But at a minimum, for those 45% identified by the report as convicted of accessory to murder, there is every reason to believe redemption is possible.

Justice strategies for juveniles conceived during a crime-wave hysteria shouldn't become the template for our society, and life-without-parole sentencing is a good place to start.

Let's replace Old Testament retribution with New Testament redemption. After all, if young people don't deserve a second chance, does anyone?

Annette Fuentes is an adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors.

"When I Die, That's When They'll Send Me Home"

When I Die, They'll Send Me Home
Youth Sentenced to Life Without Parole in California


Approximately 227 youth have been sentenced to die in California’s prisons. They have not been sentenced to death: the death penalty was found unconstitutional for juveniles by the United States Supreme Court in 2005. Instead, these young people have been sentenced to prison for the rest of their lives, with no opportunity for parole and no chance for release. Their crimes were committed when they were teenagers, yet they will die in prison. Remarkably, many of the adults who were codefendants and took part in their crimes received lower sentences and will one day be released from prison.

In the United States atleast 2,380 people are serving life without parole for crimes they committed when they were under the age of 18. In the rest of the world, just seven people are known to be serving this sentence for crimes committed when they were juveniles. Although ten other countries have laws permitting life without parole, in practice most do not use the sentence for those under age 18. International law prohibits the use of life without parole for those who are not yet 18 years old. The United States is in violation of those laws and out of step with the rest of the world.

Human Rights Watch conducted research in California on the sentencing of youth offenders to life without parole. Our data includes records obtained from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and independent research using court and media sources. We conducted a survey that garnered 130 responses, more than half of all youth offenders serving life without parole in California. Finally, we conducted in-person interviews of about 10 percent of those serving life without parole for crimes committed as youth. We have basic information on every person serving the sentence in the state, and we have a range of additional information in over 170 of all known cases. This research paints a detailed picture of Californians serving life without parole for crimes committed as youth.

In California, the vast majority of those 17 years old and younger sentenced to life without the possibility of parole were convicted of murder. This general category for individuals’ crimes, however, does not tell the whole story. It is likely that the average Californian believes this harsh sentence is reserved for the worst of the worst: the worst crimes committed by the most unredeemable criminals. This, however, is not always the case. Human Rights Watch’s research in California and across the country has found that youth are sentenced to life without parole for a wide range of crimes and culpability. In 2005 Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch published a report showing that nationally 59 percent of youth sentenced to life without parole are first-time offenders, without a single juvenile court adjudication on their records.

In 2007, Human Rights Watch surveyed youth offenders serving life without parole in California. In 45 percent of cases surveyed, youth who had been sentenced to life without parole had not actually committed the murder. Cases include that of a youth who stood by the garage door as a look-out during a car theft, a youth who sat in the get-away car during a burglary, and a youth who participated in a robbery in which murder was not part of the plan. Forty-five percent of youth reported that they were held legally responsible for a murder committed by someone else. He or she may have participated in a felony, such as robbery, but had no idea a murder would happen. She or he may have aided and abetted a crime, but not been the trigger person. While they are criminally culpable, their actions certainly do not fall into the category of the worst crimes.

Murder is a horrible crime, causing a ripple-effect of pain and suffering well beyond that of the victim. Families, friends, and communities all suffer. The fact that the perpetrator is legally a child does nothing to alleviate the loss. But societies make decisions about what to weigh when determining culpability. California’s law as it stands now fails to take into consideration a person’s legal status as a child at the time of the crime. Those who cannot buy cigarettes or alcohol, sign a rental agreement, or vote are nevertheless considered culpable to the same degree as an adult when they commit certain crimes and face adult penalties. Many feel life without parole is the equivalent of a death sentence. “They said a kid can’t get the death penalty, but life without, it’s the same thing. I’m condemned…I don’t understand the difference,” said Robert D., now 32 years of age, serving a life without parole sentence for a crime he committed in high school. He participated in a robbery in which his codefendant unexpectedly shot the victim.

The California law permitting juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole for murder was enacted in 1990. Since that time, advances in neuroscience have found that adolescents and young adults continue to develop in ways particularly relevant to assessing criminal behavior and an individual’s ability to be rehabilitated. Much of the focus on this relatively new discovery has been on teenagers’ limited comprehension of risk and consequences, and the inability to act with adult-like volition. Just as important, however, is the conclusion that teens are still developing. These findings show that young offenders are particularly amenable to change and rehabilitation. For most teens, risk-taking and criminal behavior is fleeting; they cease with maturity. California’s sentencing of youth to life without parole allows no chance for a young person to change and to prove that change has occurred.

In California, it is not just the law itself that is out of step with international norms and scientific knowledge. The state’s application of the law is also unjust. Eighty-five percent of youth sentenced to life without parole are people of color, with 75 percent of all cases in California being African American or Hispanic youth. African American youth are sentenced to life without parole at a rate that is 18.3 times the rate for whites. Hispanic youth in California are sentenced to life without parole at a rate that is five times the rate of white youth in the state.

California has the worst record in the country for racially disproportionate sentencing. In California, African American youth are sentenced to life without parole at rates that suggest unequal treatment before sentencing courts. This unequal treatment by sentencing courts cannot be explained only by white and African American youths’ differential involvement in crime.

Significantly, many of these crimes are committed by youth under an adult’s influence. Based on survey responses and other case information, we estimate that in nearly 70 percent of California cases, when juveniles committed their crime with codefendants, at least one of these codefendants was an adult. Acting under the influence and, in some cases, the direction of an adult, however, cannot be considered a mitigating factor by the sentencing judge in California. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. Juveniles with an adult codefendant are typically more harshly treated than the adult. In over half of the cases in which there was an adult codefendant, the adult received a lower sentence than the juvenile.

Poor legal representation often compromises a just outcome in juvenile life without parole cases. Many interviewees told us that they participated in their legal proceedings with little understanding of what was happening. “I didn’t even know I got [life without parole] until I talked to my lawyer after the hearing,” one young man said. Furthermore, in nearly half the California cases surveyed, respondents to Human Rights Watch reported that their own attorney did not ask the court for a lower sentence. In addition, attorneys failed to prepare youth for sentencing and did not tell them that a family member or other person could speak on their behalf at the sentencing hearing. In 68 percent of cases, the sentencing hearings proceeded with no witness speaking for the youth.

While some family members of victims support the sentence of life without parole for juveniles, the perspective of victims is not monolithic. Interviews with the families of victims who were murdered by teens show the complex and multi-faceted beliefs of those most deeply affected. Some families of victims believe that sentencing a young person to a sentence to life without parole is immoral.

California’s policy to lock up youth offenders for the rest of their lives comes with a significant financial cost: the current juvenile life without parole population will cost the state approximately half a billion dollars by the end of their lives. This population and the resulting costs will only grow as more youth are sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison.

California is not the only state that sentences youth to life without parole. Thirty-eight others apply the sentence as well. However, movement to change these laws is occurring across the country. Legislative efforts are pending in Florida, Illinois, and Michigan and there are grassroots movements in Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Washington. Most recently, Colorado outlawed life without parole for children in 2006.

If life without parole for youth under age 18 were eliminated in California, other existing state law provides ample protection for public safety. California’s next harshest penalty for murder secures a minimum of 25 years in prison. There are no reductions in the minimum time served for a murder conviction. Even then, parole is merely an option and won only through the prisoner’s demonstrating rehabilitation. If they do earn release after 25 years or more, they are statistically unlikely to commit a new crime of any type. Prisoners released after serving a sentence for a murder have the lowest recidivism rate of all prisoners.

Public awareness about this issue has increased recently through newspaper and magazine articles and television coverage. With a significant number of the country’s juvenile life without parole cases in its prisons, California has the opportunity to help lead the nation by taking immediate steps to change this unnecessarily harsh sentencing law.

Related Material

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More on Human Rights Watch's work on Juvenile Justice

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The Injustice Must End (TIME) Committee Supports Michigan House Bills 4402-4405

Sentencing Our Children to Die in Prison

Juvenile Life Without Parole

The Center For Law and Global Justice has issued a report on the sentencing of child offenders - those convicted of crimes committed when younger than 18 years of age -to a term of life imprisonment without the possibility of release or parole ("LWOP"). The sentence condemns a child to die in prison. It is the harshest sentence an individual can receive short of death and violates international human rights standards of juvenile justice.

New Information on Juvenile LWOP Global Practice

FEBRUARY 2008--The Center has now confirmed with Israeli officials that children given life sentences, including those in the Occupied Territories which have been the subject of serious concern by the Center and other human rights groups, are entitled to parole review. There remains the concern that parole review is difficult to pursue and rarely granted. The new confirmation by Israel means that the United States, with 2,381 such cases, is now the only country in the world known to either issue the sentence or to have children serving life without parole.


Michelle Leighton
Director, Human Rights Programs
Center for Law and Global Justice
University of San Francisco School of Law

Professor Connie de la Vega
Director, Frank C. Newman International Human Rights Law Clinic
University of San Francisco School of Law

This report may be accessed in .pdf format here.

Read the official press release here.

U.S.: Thousands of Children Sentenced to Life without Parole


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

U.S.: Thousands of Children Sentenced to Life without Parole
National Study by Amnesty International
and Human Rights Watch Finds
Majority Face Life for First Offense

(New York, October 12, 2005)--There are at least 2,225 child offenders serving life without parole (LWOP) sentences in U.S prisons for crimes committed before they were age 18, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said in a new joint report published today.

While many of the child offenders are now adults, 16 percent were between 13 and 15 years old at the time they committed their crimes. An estimated 59 percent were sentenced to life without parole for their first-ever criminal conviction. Forty-two states currently have laws allowing children to receive life without parole sentences.

The 157-page report, The Rest of Their Lives: Life without Parole for Child Offenders in the United States, is the first national study examining the practice of trying children as adults and sentencing them to life in adult prisons without the possibility of parole. The report is based on two years of research and on an analysis of previously uncollected federal and state corrections data. The data allowed the organizations to track state and national trends in LWOP sentencing through mid-2004 and to analyze the race, history and crimes of young offenders.

"Kids who commit serious crimes shouldn't go scot-free," said Alison Parker, Senior Researcher with Human Rights Watch, who authored the report for both organizations. "But if they are too young to vote or buy cigarettes, they are too young to spend The Rest of Their Lives behind bars."

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are releasing The Rest of Their Lives at a critical time: while fewer youth are committing serious crimes such as murder, states are increasingly sentencing them to life without parole. In 1990, for example, 2,234 children were convicted of murder and 2.9 percent sentenced to life without parole. By 2000, the conviction rate had dropped by nearly 55 percent (1,006), yet the percentage of children receiving LWOP sentences rose by 216 percent (to nine percent).

"Untie the hands of state and federal judges and prosecutors," said Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). "Give them options other than turning the courts into assembly lines that mass produce mandatory life without parole sentences for children, that ignore their enormous potential for change and rob them of all hopes for redemption."

In 26 states, the sentence of life without parole is mandatory for anyone who is found guilty of committing first-degree murder, regardless of age. According to the report, 93 percent of youth offenders serving life without parole were convicted of murder. But Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found that an estimated 26 percent were convicted of "felony murder," which holds that anyone involved in the commission of a serious crime during which someone is killed is also guilty of murder, even if he or she did not personally or directly cause the death.

For example, fifteen-year-old Peter A. was sentenced to life without parole for felony murder. Peter had joined two acquaintances of his older brother to commit a robbery. He was waiting outside in a van when one of the acquaintances botched the robbery and murdered two victims. Peter said, "Although I was present at the scene, I never shot or killed anyone." Nevertheless, Peter was held accountable for the double murder because it was established during the trial that he had stolen the van used to drive to the victims' house.

The human rights organizations also said that widespread and unfounded fears of adolescent "super-predators"--violent teenagers with long criminal histories who prey on society--prompted states to increasingly try children as adults. Ten states set no minimum age for sentencing children to life without parole, and there are at least six children currently serving the sentence who were age 13 when they committed their crimes. Once convicted, these children are sent to adult prisons and must live among adult gangs, sexual predators and in harsh conditions. For more state-by-state statistics see attached State-by-State Summary.

According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, there is no correlation between the use of the LWOP sentence and youth crime rates. There is no evidence it deters youth crime or is otherwise helpful in reducing juvenile crime rates. For example, Georgia rarely sentences children to life without parole but it has youth crime rates lower than Missouri, which imposes the sentence on child offenders far more frequently.

"Public safety can be protected without subjecting youth to the harshest prison sentence possible," said Parker.

Nationwide, black youth receive life without parole sentences at a rate estimated to be ten times greater than that of white youth (6.6 versus 0.6). In some states the ratio is far greater: in California, for example, black youth are 22.5 times more likely to receive a life without parole sentence than white youth. In Pennsylvania, Hispanic youth are ten times more likely to receive the sentence than whites (13.2 versus 1.3).

The United States is one of only a few countries in the world that permits children to be sentenced to LWOP. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by every country in the world except the United States and Somalia, forbids this practice, and at least 132 countries have rejected the sentence altogether. Thirteen other countries have laws permitting the child LWOP sentence, but, outside of the United States, there are only about 12 young offenders currently serving life sentences with no possibility of parole.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also challenged the presumption that the youth offenders are irredeemable, which is implicit in the sentence they have received.

"Children who commit serious crimes still have the ability to change their lives for the better," said David Berger, Attorney, O'Melveny & Myers LLP; Pro Bono Counsel, Amnesty International USA researcher for this report. "It is now time for state and federal officials to take positive steps by enacting policies that seek to redeem children, instead of throwing them in prison for the rest of their lives."

The organizations called on the United States to end the practice of sentencing child offenders to life without parole. For those already serving life sentences, immediate efforts should be made to grant them access to parole procedures.

The report is available at:

For further information, please contact:
Jamie Fellner (Human Rights Watch): +1-212-216-1212 or +1-917-912-7343 (English, Spanish)
Alison Parker (Human Rights Watch), +1-917-535-9796
Edward Jackson (Amnesty International), +1-202-544-0200 x. 302, +1-202-251-3894 mobile

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Detroit, MI 48201

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Growing Rate of Juvenile Life Sentences Examined in ACLU of Michigan Report

Growing Rate of Juvenile Life Sentences Examined in ACLU of Michigan Report (9/14/2004)


DETROIT - In a report released today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan called attention to the growing number of juveniles serving life sentences in Michigan prisons with no hope of rehabilitation or release.

"More than 300 children have been given these unforgiving sentences," said Deborah Labelle, the Ann Arbor attorney who directed the Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative for the ACLU. "Life-without-parole sentences ignore the very real differences between children and adults, abandoning the concepts of redemption and second chances upon which this country was built."

In Michigan and many other states, juveniles can be transferred to adult courts and sentenced to life sentences without any chance of parole regardless of their age or the circumstances of their offense. According to the ACLU, recent research casts doubts on the cognitive capacity of adolescents and teens and raises serious questions about juveniles' ability to understand the criminal consequences for their actions, and their ability to understand the judicial system or cooperate in their own defense.

The ACLU's report also includes recommendations for a response to juvenile crime.

"This report illustrates the need to re-examine the laws that allow children to be sentenced to life in adult prisons when they can't even legally use alcohol, serve on juries or be drafted for military service because they are presumed to lack the capacity to be able to handle adult responsibilities," said ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss.

Moss said that automatic, mandatory and permanent sentencing laws in Michigan leave no room to reasonably assess a juvenile's growth or maturity. In too many cases, the financial and societal cost of keeping children in prison cannot be justified by the benefit in terms of public safety.

The report recommends that individual assessments of the need for continued incarceration and proportional punishment be considered to allow these individuals the opportunity to rejoin and contribute to society, using the resources for efforts that are proven to reduce youth crime.

Recommendations in the report include:

▸ Amending the law to provide that juveniles convicted of homicide offenses may receive a sentence not exceeding 25 years;
▸ Amending the law to eliminate automatic and judicial waivers to circuit court;
▸ Amending the law to limit disposition options to juvenile or "blended" sentences, such that no juvenile may be sent to prison before his or her 18th birthday;
▸ Transferring all juveniles currently under the age of 18 to juvenile facilities and commute to "blended" sentences;
▸ Reducing existing life without parole sentences to a maximum of 25 years; and
▸ Restoring parole eligibility for all who served at least 15 years.

The imposition of life without parole on minor children is explicitly prohibited by the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by President Clinton in 2000, and is widely considered a violation of international law and fundamental human rights, the ACLU noted. Despite this, Michigan and 40 other states permit these sentences to be imposed on juveniles. Michigan is one of 13 states that have no age limit for life sentences without possibility of parole.

The Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative was made possible by a generous grant from the JEHT Foundation to investigate issues surrounding the growing number of children sentenced to life sentences without the possibility of parole. The JEHT Foundation was established in April 2000 to support its donors' interests in human rights, social justice and community building. The name JEHT stands for the core values that underlie the Foundation's mission: Justice, Equality, Human dignity and Tolerance.

To read the report, go to:

"Life WIthout Parole for Those Sentenced as Youths - Public Opinion in Michigan" - Abridged Version of Study - Wayne State University - 2005

Our Mission

This blog was created by members of The Injustice Must End Committee (TIME) to educate people about the facts surrounding the imposition of life without parole (LWOP) sentences on children in the USA. We also seek to dispel the myths that abound about the issue which are largely fueled by the media and prosecutors.

The imposition of LWOP sentences on children is a human rights violation. The Convention On the Rights of the Child (CRC) expressly prohibits the death penalty and LWOP sentences for children. As of February 2008 the USA is currently the only country in the world that is sentencing children to LWOP.

On this blog you will find important information and links to resources you can use to educate yourself and others about this issue. We encourage people to send us related information and links whenever they find it to be shared with other visitors of the blog.

We will use this blog and our related groups to help people stay abreast of all the latest information that develops regarding the campaign to abolish LWOP sentences for children throughout the country.

It is our aim to keep the issue alive, create dialogue, generate support, and help galvanize the various campaigns into a strong network so we can learn from each other and strengthen the work we are doing.

We will also feature reports about real cases of children who have been sentenced to die in prison in the USA. People are invited to also share stories about others who have fallen victim to this cruel and unforgiving sentence which they would like the world to read about.

Additionally, we seek to generate support for passage of Michigan House Bills 4402-4405, and other similar legislation throughout the country, which would abolish the imposition of LWOP sentences on children. The legislation in Michigan is commonly referred to as the "Second Chances Legislation (SCL)."