California has sentenced more juveniles to life in prison without possibility of parole than any state except Pennsylvania, says a new study by the University of San Francisco’s Center for Law and Global Justice reported by the Los Angeles Times. California has 227 inmates serving such sentences for crimes committed before they turned 18; Pennsylvania has 433. “Sentencing Children to Die in Prison” found that the U.S. has far more juveniles serving life terms than any other country — 2,387 — with Israel running a distant second at 7.
Black juveniles are 10 times more likely than whites to be given a life without parole sentence. In California, black juveniles are 20 times more likely to receive such sentences. “For many children, [life without parole] is an effective death sentence carried out by the state slowly over a long period of time,” said Michelle Leighton, study author. It found that 51 percent of youths sentenced to life without parole are first-time offenders. The U.S. government and 44 states permit such sentences. The report asserts that “harsh sentences dispensed in adult courts do not take into account the lessened culpability of juvenile offenders, their ineptness at navigating the criminal justice system or their potential for rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Psychologically and neurologically, children cannot be expected to have achieved the same level of mental development as an adult, even when they become teenagers.”