More than 2,000 US Inmates Sentenced to Life in Prison Without Parole Committed Their Crimes When They Were Minors

According to Equal Justice Initiative, there are more than 2,000 prisoners serving life sentences without parole for crimes that they committed when they were younger than 18. At least 73 of these offenders were just 13 or 14 at the time.

The US Department of Justice says that the trend of giving minors life prison sentences began in the 1990’s when there was a dramatic increase in homicides committed by juveniles. The nationwide crackdown also resulted in certain minors being tried in adult courts.

Now, Oregon, Alaska, New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas are the only US states where a minor can’t be sentenced to life without parole. 19 US states allow children younger than 14 to be sentenced to the same terms. Pennsylvania has almost 500 prisoners that committed crimes when they were minors and who are now serving life terms without parole.

Recently, lawmakers in certain US states began to push for changes in their laws. In 2006, Colorado got rid of the sentence of life in prison without parole for minors convicted of crimes. Legislation is being considered at the federal level that would allow juvenile offenders to avail of parole. Meantime, in California, Senator Leland Yee introduced SB 999 that allows for the sentences of juveniles serving life in prison to be reevaluated after 10 years for parole.

While supporters of the practice of sentencing minors to life sentences say this punishment is sometimes necessary to keep society safe, opponents call life prison sentences for juveniles a “cruel” punishment for such young offenders. There are even two juvenile offenders who received the lifelong sentences for crimes other than murder.

Antonio Nunez, then 14, was convicted of armed kidnapping in 2001. Joe Sullivan received his lifelong sentence for raping an elderly woman in 1989. Sullivan is mentally disabled and was 13 when the sexual assault incident happened.

According to Equal Justice, most juvenile offenders who are ordered to spend their lives in prison without parole usually had to endure violence, poverty, or drugs while growing up.

When tried in adult court, juveniles can be at a huge disadvantage unless they are represented by an experienced juvenile crimes lawyer.

Teens locked up for life without a second chance, CNN, April 8, 2009
Nearly 500 teens serving life terms in Pa. prisons, Post-Gazette, April 8, 2009
Bill Introduced to Reform Life Sentences for Minors, California Chronicle, April 8, 2009

Related Web Resources:
Equal Justice Initiative

Juvenile without Parole Fact Sheet, Citizens for Juvenile Justice (PDF)

Read the Equal Justice Initiative Report

Contact our Boston juvenile defense law firm for your free case evaluation. There are steps that we can take to push for your child’s case to be heard in a Massachusetts juvenile court.

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